Local governments around Minnesota will be splitting $841 million in federal aid to help pay for costs incurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money, part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, will be split up to Minnesota’s counties and cities based on population. Counties will get about $120 per resident, while cities will get $75 per resident and small towns $25 per resident.

A separate $12 million will be allocated toward food shelves and food banks.

Hennepin and Ramsey counties already received direct aid earmarked for communities with more than 500,000 people, and won’t get any more money, though cities within those counties are eligible for their share of the $841 million.

This formula was negotiated by leaders in the Minnesota Legislature, but a bill to distribute it was left unpassed when the special session collapsed last week. Gov. Tim Walz’s declaration of a peacetime emergency to battle COVID-19 gave him the legal authority to distribute the money.

The governor had preferred different ways of distributing the money, including a desire to hold back some of the $841 million in reserve to help local governments pay for costs incurred in future outbreaks. But he ultimately decided to stick with the Legislature’s formula for distributing all of the money by population.

“This funding will bring much-needed relief to communities across the state as we continue to battle this pandemic together,” the DFL governor said in a statement.

David Unmacht, executive director for the League of Minnesota Cities, said local governments have had to “modify their operations, purchase equipment and redeploy staff” as a result of COVID-19, all from budgets set last fall that didn’t anticipate a pandemic.

Walz’s order dropped one provision the Legislature had included in its version: a requirement that counties spend at least 10 percent of their allotment on aid to local businesses. Under the federal government’s guidelines, counties are still able to voluntarily give grants to small businesses who have incurred costs from government-mandated closures.

Before it can go out, Walz’s distribution of the aid needs to be approved by the Legislative Advisory Commission, a panel of top legislative leaders who review spending requests.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, who helped negotiate the legislative compromise, praised Walz for releasing the funds along the Legislature’s lines.

“These are dollars our local communities need to address the growing financial burden from the costs of fighting COVID,” Rosen said.

Local governments can apply for their share of the money through forms available on the Department of Revenue’s website. Barring any new holdups, the first checks will begin going out next week. All funds must be spent on approved COVID-19-related areas by the end of the year.


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