2020 04 16 Call, DEED
Thursday, April 16, 2020
Steve Kelley, Commissioner of Commerce
Nicole Blissenbach, Asst Commissioner of Department of Labor and Industry
Robert Doty, Asst Commissioner of Dept of Revenue
Steve Grove, Commissioner of DEED
Kevin McKinnon, Deputy Commissioner of DEED
Darielle Dannon, Legislative Director
Anna Peterson, DEED Chief of Staff
Purpose: regular business call with state government. How can we do more for business?
Questions are being circulated into the forum through this daily communication. Always seeking ideas for more targeted supports.
MOVING FORWARD, THESE CALLS WILL BE M-Th.
DEED, Steve Grove
- Yesterday: instituted the 13-week extension of UI benefits from CARES Act. Paid for by tax $, very important for those near the end of their allocation when this crisis struck. Again, first state in the nation to activate this.
- So, as of yesterday, if you are unemployed, you will get longer period of coverage in addition to additional $600/mth. About 8000 immediately benefitted, and more over the coming months.
- Still standing up the PUA, which particularly helps self-employed. More complex because we have to build out an entirely new program. Potential for fraud is extremely high. Goal to have it up by EOM April.
- When ready, will back date to date of eligibility. No states yet have gotten this up and running.
- Numbers yesterday re PPP:
- MN is 3d highest state in loans $ per capita for this program
- SBA has 33,819 loans
- 7.6B approved in state
- $225K average loan size
- 70% of the money committed as a nation overall
- A lot of conversation right now about what and when reopening the economy will look like. Working closely with MDH and DLI re how that will look. In stages, timing, shape and form… we can't have this conversation alone. Business outreach going on, across the state. Online form at www.mn.gov/deed/critical on which you can submit ideas, precautions, how we can come back online. In terms of scale, 82% of the state is still working. We're looking at that 18% noncritical workforce currently on pause. Learning a lot from you still operating, and your innovative ideas. We are receiving hundreds of submissions.
- The levels of interaction we are considering, in terms of recommended precautions:
- customer facing (incl delivery and pick up)
- customer facing activities
- Timing still remains unclear. Right now, still SAH.
- Will put out additional call for ideas from business on best practices. Pictures on what you're doing, lessons learned, amplify the case studies we're seeing across the state. Best teachers will come from you in the field.
Steve Kelley, Commerce
- Acknowledge the work MDH and Commerce did w legislature on Tuesday in the COVID-19 Response pkg. For example, provisions related to telemedicine, easier for patients to connect with physicians by phone and receive treatment, if no more sophisticated tools available.
- We're hearing and need your input: availability of notary services. Yesterday Commerce issued guidance re the use of remote online notaries, which had been authorized by the Legislature, but was unclear whether companies seeking surety bonds could use remote online notaries as well. Clarified that. Ongoing concern that some transactions are being held up by the lack of access to notaries. We've asked the banks and credit unions, they've said they continue to take those services available by appt or through the drive-in window. Before we take additional action, if you have issues please contact Commerce so we know what's going on and identify what more we should do.
Nicole Blissenbach, DLI
- OSHA division is busy responding to a number of questions about how to make places of employment safer for workers and for customers. We are adding additional guidance on industry specific recommendations on our website.
- If you are wanting to build out safeguards, OSHA is the place to go.
- Lots of calls from employees re required use of vacation, sick leave, PTO. If an employee is eligible for paid leave under provisions of FFCRA, employer may not require employee to use earned or paid leave before they use leave allowed by FFCRA.
- Requirement to use paid leave outside of this legislation: depends on leave policy, collective bargaining agreement, etc. Look to those documents if there are questions re when leave can be used and who can require its use. If FFCRA is applicable, use that before using accrued leave.
Robert Doty, Revenue
- Visit Revenue website and COVID-19 page for continual updates. Info on filing, paying, compliance activities, FAQs, info on tax deadlines, abatement.
- Please call or email.
- Kevin: PPP is through SBA, but local lenders saying "only taking apps for current clients." are you aware of this impeding businesses from applying? Grove: we have heard this as well. Challenge from the beginning is that fed govt wants to get $ out quickly, banks prefer existing account holders because it's quicker way to get $ out. This is challenging for those who don't have bank accounts with SBA lenders and for those who are unbanked entirely. They are facing severe challenges, tens of thousands in the state are unbanked. Is a gap in the support systems built thus far. Actively ww Legislature to determine a solution. Fed govt thinking that thru as well. We are over 70% through the PPP $ already, Congress is discussing how/if additional funds can come together… McKinnon: aware that we are 75% through allocation from Congress, who is talking about adding ore $ to it. similarly with EIDL, some talk about temporarily closing the EIDL system pending additional appropriate from Congress. Our banks are overloaded dealing with their own customers. At some point, when they're through their customers, will turn to others.
- Becoming apparent EIDL loan may not arrive before many small businesses run out of funds. Any bridge funding from the state? McKinnon: the advance program thru EIDL, and the way PPP works, funds disbursed within 3 days. Re 3-4 weeks to process the remainder of the loan, I have not heard that it is taking that long. (this is the intent of Minnesota's SBEL, to be that bridge resource while waiting on federal $)
- UI questions about UI phone line, specific to employers having frustrations getting thru. Can we have a specific line dedicated to employers? On hold for a long time and then get hung up on…. Grove: we are still handling over 6000 calls/day, this is a challenge. Wait times are 1 to 1-1/2 hours. So much information online, we hope you can get most of your info there. we have had to focus on employees for now, but keep feeding themes up to us. Maybe something they are having trouble finding online… FAQs are extremely extensive, but do recognize you have unique situations. Over 500K have employed for UI right now, and they remain our priority.
- Revenue: any talks about statewide decision on payment of property taxes, rather than decisions at county level? Doty: not aware of any discussions of a statewide decision. That is a county decision. But I can check to see if there's more information on that.
- UI: for someone currently with an open UI claim, who has exhausted their 26-week benefit, can they request the 13-week extension even though they exhausted 26 weeks prior to this? Grove: yes. You already have an account with us, go in and signal you continue to be unemployed like you do every week anyhow, and those additional 13 weeks will kick in.
- A number of questions from last week re when it's time to bring workers back to work, getting extra $600 in UI benefits, navigating that for employers. Can an employee refuse to come back because they want that additional benefit? Grove: this came up yesterday in Senate Jobs Committee as well. UI incentives now are strong. If you make $1200 or less per week, from a money perspective alone, UI benefits pay more than you back at work. But the whole principle is that you receive these benefits when you're separated from work due to no fault of your own and can't go back. When you ARE Able to go back, you must. When more of the economy is reopened, and jobs are again available, employees must return to work. That's a broad principle, and we know there are extenuating circumstances related to COVID-19 that are covered.
- Communications being sent from MN UI office comes from USPS. Deadline date (such as, "you must respond within 10 days") is based on date printed, and yet sometimes it arrives after due date. Grove: I can't comment on that. I haven't heard of this issue. Almost all happens electronically. Sounds troubling, will dig up an answer and circle back.
- Re reopening the state: are you looking at urban vs rural differently? Rural is drastically less dense than urban, and density within businesses in terms of customers is much lower as well. Grove: good question. We ARE looking at customer facing vs non customer facing. Urban vs rural is less top of mind. Look at Smithfield, not a larger town in SD, guidance was relaxed, and essentially an entire plant got the virus. It is pernicious, it does spread as fast. Yes they are different, but less about population centers and more about work environment. Guidance, when it comes, will include businesses with a plan based on CDC guidance, so customers are aware of how they will implement CDC guidance. And health screening. Businesses who are getting this right now are doing thoughtful health screening up front, with 5 questions up front, temperature checks, testing. When testing is available more broadly, availability to test workers as well, gives us extraordinary insight into where the virus is. That's the gold standard for reentry.
Notes from Governor’s COVID briefing on 4/14
Remarks from Governor Walz:
- Gov Walz announced that he signed the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act into law. The new law provides relief to Minnesotans struggling to afford their insulin. Gov praised the work of insulin advocates to call attention to this urgent issue and get this important bill passed through the Legislature.
- Reminded Minnesotans that the MNSure “special enrollment period” is still open until next Tuesday, May 21, 2020. There is a statewide network of navigators available by phone to assist.
- Today, April 15, is usually Tax Day, but Minnesota has extended the deadline just like the federal government to July 15, 2020.
- University of Minnesota has received FDA approval to create a new type of ventilator. Funded by a rapid-response grant from the University. A University of Minnesota Medical School resident and a College of Science and Engineering colleague put together a team to build the prototype. This new low-cost ventilator is aimed at helping clinicians in settings where traditional ventilators are not available. The plans for the machine will be posted online to share with the world.
- Gov encouraged everyone to watch a video created by Minnesota’s sports teams.
Remarks from Commissioner Jan Malcolm, Minnesota Department of Health (MDH):
- Globally: Over 2M cases worldwide; over 127,000 deaths.
- U.S.: Over 609,600 confirmed cases; over 26,000 deaths.
- Minnesota: Total of 1,809 lab-confirmed cases; 87 deaths. Currently 197 people hospitalized; 93 currently in ICU.
- The increase in cases in Minnesota continues at approximately the same pace, a doubling rate of approximately 7-8 days.
- Regarding long-term care facilities, as of today a total of 108 facilities in Minnesota have had at least one confirmed case. Important to note that more than half of those facilities have had only one case, which illustrates the work being done to contain and mitigate the spread. Long-term care facilities have a group of higher risk people in close quarters; MDH has been collaborating with the facilities to make sure the state brings all the support it can to assist them.
Remarks from Joe Kelly, State Emergency Operations Center:
- Reminder about Severe Weather Awareness Week. Minnesota is one of the most flood-prone states in the country. Floods are Minnesota’s #1 natural disaster threat by far.
- In the last 10 years, Minnesota has experienced 28 major floods that triggered either a state or federal disaster declaration.
- “Turn around, don’t drown.” Do not try to drive through flooded areas, turn your car around and go back.
- Tomorrow some areas of the state will be running tornado drills. Some locations will run an afternoon warning drill at 1:45pm, and an evening drill at 6:45pm. Please social distance as well as you can during the drill.
Remarks from Steve Grove, Commissioner of Dept. of Employment & Economic Development (DEED):
- The state has now fully implemented the 13-week extension to the Unemployment Insurance benefits. Those who are near the end of their normal eligibility period for Unemployment Insurance will receive an additional 13 weeks of benefits.
- Total Unemployment Insurance applications since 3/15/20: 464,513.
- Largest occupational categories continue to be: food service and preparation, sales and service, healthcare practitioners and support, office and administrative support and production.
- The SBA has been working hard to connect Minnesota businesses with the federal loan programs. The federal Paycheck Protection Program gives loans to businesses to help them to continue to make their payroll. Minnesota has received the 3rd highest loan dollars per capita for that program.
Notable questions from the press:
Is Minnesota seeing people “checking-out” from long-term care facilities, like we are seeing in other parts of the country?
Long-term care facilities are working very hard to provide safe environment, and often the facility is the safest environment for its residents. In general, we think these continue to be good, safe places that are the best equipped locations to take care of our seniors.
There were questions today during a Senate hearing about people getting denied Unemployment Insurance benefits, not receiving confirmation or immediate feedback?
If the application is received online, and is approved, there is in fact an auto-reply. When applying for Unemployment Insurance benefits, the automatic answer for self-employed people is going to be “no.” Eventually it will be a yes, though. During the Senate hearing today, lawmakers were asking if DEED could provide a different auto-reply to those submitting applications. By the end of the month we will be providing those benefits and that will no longer be an issue.
It seems increasingly unrealistic that we will be able to dramatically expand testing by May 4. What makes us think that we will be able to ramp up testing in Minnesota in the next 2 weeks?
On the calls with other Governors, we are hearing that this is an issue everywhere in the country. But you have to understand how we ended up here, to understand what we are doing.
At the end of March, we were told by the President that by now, everyone who wanted to get a test would be able to get one. The federal government was going to take over the supply chain, and they sent the testing to these private labs. Now, we are being told that the federal government is not doing to be doing testing – they are giving up. Yesterday, the President said that the states are on their own for testing. So, the states are going to have to figure out how to do this. Testing is absolutely key to getting back to some form of normalcy. I am still committed to ramping this up, trying to set an example for the country. I have laid out this challenge to my team for us to get there. I am pushing.
We do, at this time, have the laboratory capacity to do more testing. The shortage has been on the collection side, with supplies and staff to collect the samples. Just within the last week some of our healthcare providers have come online to do their own in-house testing.
Why is the total number of tests completed going down this week, not up?
We believe that is related to the holiday weekend, there not being as many providers open to collect the samples. Check in again at the end of the week if that has not changed.
Update on serology tests? There are tests now being sold and advertised online.
Yes, we need to be careful. There are some tests being sold out there that are completely worthless. A lot depends on the quality of the test. There is also still a lot that we do not know about the virus. We do not know for certain that if a person gets this virus, they cannot get it again.
The University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic each have their own serology tests that they are developing, and we have strong confidence in their ability to create a good test.
: Not all serology tests are created equal. Because there was flexibility with the FDA review process, there are many tests now out on the market with unclear reliability. We are also still learning more about the level of immunity. A test does not exist yet that can officially certify that someone has had COVID-19 and is now immune. So be cautious if any test offers that result. Please be very cautious about trying to use those tests.
Governor, you were saying that we need to get up to around 40,000 tests a week. When you talk about testing, are those larger numbers in terms of testing referring to the regular COVID-19 tests or serology tests?
My hope is that we can really ramp up the serology tests. That is where there is the potential to do rapid and frequent testing.
Does state health department plan to track the results of the serology tests? Will they be part of the data on the state dashboard?
Right now, our communicable disease rules focus on reporting disease, not immunity. But we will look into that, in terms of adding to the dashboard.
What are the one or two things that are needed to ramp up the testing?
The thing about the serology tests is that you do not need a nasal swab. It is usually a blood test, so different PPE is necessary. It is also a different set of re-agents than the other COVID-19 test, and those re-agents are more readily available in the supply chain right now.
Last week, one of the shocking pieces of information was about our supply of PPE, and that under some scenarios, we would run out possibly during the peak. Do you have an update?
There is reason to be optimistic about this. We still have a lot of work to do, but I believe we have made some progress.
Commissioner of Administration Alice Roberts-Davis:
We are in a better place than we were one or two weeks ago. We are starting to see more of steady flow of supplies into the state. Some of our private companies have connected the state with suppliers in Asian countries.
Once we do expand testing, what will the priority be in terms of testing, beyond the most vulnerable populations?
In terms of prioritization, the highest priority is when a positive test would change the approach in a person’s care. If knowing the result would not change the treatment plan, they are not usually not getting tested. Also a high priority are those living in homeless shelters, and others living or working in congregate care settings. When we have expanded access, we have included healthcare workers, childcare workers, EMS. Then also including police, firefighters, other first responders.
In terms of serology testing, our capacity projected for that kind of test is significantly larger than our capacity for the regular COVID-19 testing, by an order of magnitude really.
Will we ask for federal assistance for our testing?
We are going to have to go it alone, the President made that clear yesterday. Two weeks ago, we were told that we would soon be testing millions of people a day in the U.S. But now the federal government has pulled back from that promise, so it is left to the states.