In my newsletter two weeks ago, I wrote that the pandemic focuses our attention on three critical goals:
First, maintaining focus on public health in the immediate crisis, which means making sure that we are doing everything we can to minimize the spread of the virus, and to support care for people who do become sick.
Second, making sure everyone’s basic needs are met while their lives are disrupted by practical and social changes in support of public health. The crisis is exposing and stressing the precariousness of daily life for many people in our city, and creating urgent needs where people could not afford disruption.
Third, keeping an eye toward the future, toward recovery, and toward sustaining the small businesses, freelancers, artists, and nonprofits who make our city a great place to live and thrive, many of whom will not be in business without support when we return to public life.
Maintaining Public Health
While there are signs that our social distancing is working to slow and flatten the curve as intended, we also know that the worst is yet to come and we need to keep doing what we are doing. As Governor Walz said in his State of the State address, “Staying home is the only vaccine we have right now.”
Over the weekend, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) are now recommending that people cover their nose and mouth with a mask when they go out in public to help slow the spread of the virus. Remember, masks are no substitute for social distancing, and we all still need to maintain physical distance from each other.
The Park Board has expanded the parkway closures to give everyone a little breathing room for outdoor exercise while maintaining physical distance.
Making Sure Everyone’s Basic Needs Are Met
On Friday, Mayor Frey announced the creation of a special gap funding package that we all had the chance to work on together. More than $5 million in City funding and new programming is now being dedicated to help renters, families, small businesses and employees hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. More on this below.
Despite the federal and state assistance programs that have already been enacted, and our own local assistance, we know that more is going to be needed. More people filed for unemployment in the last two weeks than in all of 2019 combined, and many in our community are not eligible for some or most or all of the assistance programs in the works.
One of the most urgent ways in which this is impacting people is in rent and mortgages — people can’t pay their rent or mortgage when they don’t have any income — and not just for housing but for small business rent as well. This is a problem across our state and the entire country, and it needs a statewide or nationwide response. That is why I signed on to a letter urging the state legislature to support Representative Howard’s Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance Program proposal to dedicate $100 million to rental assistance. You can add your name, too.
As important as that is as an urgent solution, it seems likely that even that kind of significant state investment will fall short of what we need. $100 million might get us through May 1, but then we need a plan for a deeper recovery for the weeks and months beyond. That is why I also joined leaders form cities around the Twin Cities who signed on to a letter drafted by my colleague, Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, calling on Governor Walz to support the suspension of rent and mortgage payments during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I was on the front lines of the foreclosure prevention movement after the collapse of 2008, and I witnessed first-hand the pain that we allowed by letting families fail, and then bailing out the banks whose loans were no longer getting repaid. This time, let’s all advocate for investments in people, and keep our economy whole by minimizing the anguish of eviction, foreclosure, and bankruptcy that is keeping many Minneapolis residents up at night.
Musicians held an online celebration for First Avenue that you can watch at first-aid.live, and created special merchandise to benefit our local music scene.
Our Small Business Team and B-TAP partners are working full-time helping small businesses apply for the variety of loans, forgivable loans, grants, and other assistance included in the federal and state relief packages. If you need assistance for your business, don’t hesitate to contact them at (612) 673-2499 (BIZZ) or SmallBusiness@minneapolismn.gov.
Keeping Our Government Open
In the meantime, we continue to adjust the way we run our City government in order to keep doing the things we need to be able to do for the City to run. Starting this week, people can now provide live comments remotely for public hearings by phone.
Go to minneapolismn.gov/meetingsto find out how to watch live meeting broadcasts and get access to agendas, reports and other meeting documents.
Anyone interested in participating by phone can fill out a form found under the “participate by phone in the meeting” heading. Once submitted, a phone number and conference code will be emailed to you.
City’s New Gap Funding Will Help Minneapolis Renters, Families, Workers and Small Businesses Affected by the Pandemic
On Friday, Mayor Frey addressed our City Council meeting to announce the creation of a special gap funding package that we all had the chance to work on together. More than $5 million in City funding and new programming is now being dedicated to help renters, families, small businesses and employees hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The funding will primarily provide housing assistance to low-income renters who have lost income and forgivable, no-interest loans for small businesses. The City is taking steps to make sure these funds complement, not duplicate, the work made possibly by new state and federal funding.
The gap fund for housing includes:
$2 million for emergency housing assistance programs. The amount of assistance for qualifying households varies, depending on individual needs and taking into consideration other resources individual households are eligible to receive. In most cases, the maximum amount of assistance won’t exceed $1,500 per household, but providers have the flexibility to provide up to $2,000 under extraordinary circumstances.
$1 million to expand the Stable Homes Stable Schools initiative. The existing program provides one-time or short-term assistance to families experiencing homelessness or housing instability. It will now be expanded to address pandemic-related housing instability on an emergency basis, and eligibility will be open to all 39 of the Minneapolis Public Schools’ elementary schools.
The gap fund for small businesses includes:
$2.2 million in forgivable and no-interest loans to support small businesses and self-employed workers in the most economically disadvantaged areas of the city. Companies with 20 or fewer employees, and people who are self-employed, will be eligible to receive fixed loan amounts of $5,000 and $10,000, depending on need resulting from the pandemic. Eligible small businesses must be located in one of a set of designated areas of Minneapolis, which includes Areas of Concentrated Poverty above 50%, the Green Zones, the Promise Zone, and the proposed Cultural Districts.
Modifications to the City loan program. The City’s existing 2% participation loan program for small businesses will be modified to set the interest rate to 0% and expand the eligible expenses to include working capital costs. Eligible businesses and self-employed workers need to have 20 or fewer employees or $1 million or less in annual revenue, and also be able to show a demonstrable impact from the pandemic.
The City will also re-examine loans closed before the pandemic to help small businesses. For eligible and existing City-issued loans less than $200,000 to homebuyers and businesses, the City is moving forward with six months of forbearance and deferred payments. The City will also seek forbearance on its commercial real estate loans greater than $200,000.
Two programs that have already had success helping the Minneapolis business community will have stepped up funding. The Business Technical Assistance Program (B-TAP), which provides consulting support to small-sized and medium-sized businesses in Minneapolis, will receive $300,000 so more people can get support navigating the challenges brought by the pandemic. The Twin Cities Hospitality Fund, a partnership that provides micro-grants to low-wealth employees in the hospitality and service industry, will receive $100,000.
We can simultaneously applaud these funds as an important investment in our community for many people who badly need help, and also recognize that gaps remain, that it is not enough (and couldn’t possibly have been enough at the scale of the city’s budget) to meet the staggering need left by this unprecedented shutdown. The pandemic calls on us to care more than we ever have about the health and well-being of our neighbors, and of our community collectively.
I’m sympathetic to people noting that some of these resources don’t reach some people who need them, because of geographic restrictions or other program features, but I also want to encourage everybody to try to receive the Mayor’s proposal with a spirit of generosity and caring about the collective. Every family that receives these resources is a family not having to compete for another scarce resource down the line. Every business that gets one of the geographically limited small loans and lives to the other side of this contributes to our collective economic future.
To be clear: people are being left out. There’s not enough in this package even to serve everyone who does qualify for these programs. Leaning into existing programs with our limited resources was an efficient way to quickly make resources available and fill some of the gaps left by state and federal resources. In the meantime, I’ll continue to work both within government and with community and philanthropic partners to make sure everyone gets help accessing the resources that are there, and to meet more needs where gaps remain.
The Minneapolis Health Department has established a donation hub to facilitate connections between those have capacity or resources to donate and those with complementary needs. The City is not collecting or storing items, but is seeking to catalog what people and organizations have available, and what is needed, to help the supply and the need.
The best first step for people interested in donating anything OTHER THAN Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and for people and organizations who need items other than PPE, including thermometers, is to fill out the appropriate form below.
From there, City staff leading the COVID-19 response in the Health Department will do what they can to deploy resources and bridge gaps.
Do not call 911 to report people who are not staying home during the City’s stay-at-home order. Please call 311 if you have concerns about the voluntary compliance of the stay-at-home order involving a business, organization or a group gathering in a public space. We will route all calls to the appropriate City staff for potential action. The local stay-at-home order was put in place by Mayor Frey, following the state directive by Gov. Walz, to try to keep the spread of COVID-19 from overwhelming our health care system.
Park Board Asks People to Stay 6 Feet Apart So Parks Can Stay Open
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is asking for the public’s help in keeping parks and trails open by staying 6 feet apart during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately, since Gov. Walz’s Stay at Home Order went into effect, MPRB staff, commissioners and park police have been flooded with reports of park users disregarding safety guidelines by crowding popular park locations and trails, not staying 6 feet apart, and participating in team sports and group activities.
Closure of popular, previously crowded parks has already happened in major cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington D.C.
The MPRB implores all its park users to strictly keep 6 feet apart to limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep the park system open.
State Resources to Help Minnesotans During COVID-19 Response
The State reminded Minnesotans of some key information during this unprecedented crisis, including a special enrollment period to get health care coverage, an extension on tax return deadlines, how to access unemployment insurance, and more.
MNsure –A special enrollment period for qualified individuals who are without insurance runs through April 21. Apply through MNsure.org.
Deadline extensions – Minnesotans filing their annual Minnesota Individual Income Tax return for 2019 have until Wednesday, July 15, 2020, to file and make payments without any penalties or interest. The deadline to apply for the REAL ID has also been pushed back by one year.
Suspension of evictions –Landlords and financial institutions cannot begin eviction proceedings that would remove tenants from stable housing during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you or someone you know has been wrongfully convicted, you can contact the Attorney General’s Office here or at (951) 296-3353.
Child care –Six Minnesota foundations launched an Emergency Child Care Grant Program to provide financial support to licensed child care providers, which will provide invaluable education and services to our state’s emergency response.
(Virtual) Coffee With Your Council Member
I normally hold regular open community office hours at 5:00 p.m. on Wednesdays, at a rotating neighborhood coffee shop in Ward 3 for constituents to drop by, ask questions, and raise any issues you see in the community.
While we are keeping social distance, I will hold my community office hours by phone instead.
City staff will be holding online open houses to provide an overview of the action plan. The first virtual open house will be held Monday, April 13 from 4:30-5:30 p.m. Join the Skype broadcast here.
Follow the City of Minneapolis on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay updated — use #gompls to share your feedback with us.
Neighborhoods 2020 Program Guidelines
The public comment period for the Neighborhoods 2020 draft program guidelines on neighborhood programming and funding has been extended to July 15, 2020. The guidelines are now expected to go before the City Council for review in mid-August.
During the extended public comment period, Neighborhood and Community Relations staff members will expand outreach and hold virtual public meetings. The first one was April 2, and a recording will be available at minneapolismn.gov/neighborhoods2020.
Neighborhoods 2020 is a plan for continuing to fund neighborhood organizations in Minneapolis when the existing funding source ends and a process to identify expectations for the work they do. The draft program guidelines follow the vision to preserve Minneapolis’ neighborhood organizations and create equitable communities in which all people are valued, communities are engaged and leadership mirrors the diversity of the city.
Neighborhood Event Calendars
Want to know what’s happening around Ward 3? Check out these event calendars!