(As seen in the Star Tribune)
Simply expanding the list of "essential" businesses one at a time is the wrong approach to keeping Minnesota's economy afloat.
Over the past month, hundreds of business owners, employees, parents and residents have flooded our offices with messages of confusion and concern about our state’s response to the coronavirus and what it means for them. The fear is real, and the concern about contracting a virus with no known cure weighs heavy on their minds. However, equal concern is expressed about the lost paychecks, the survival of businesses, the disruption in education and the long-term upheaval of supply chains resulting from the extended stay-at-home order currently in place.
Businesses of all sizes — from hair salons to the Mayo Clinic and Best Buy — and Minnesotans at every rung of the income ladder are feeling the impact of this unprecedented action. The frustration and sense of helplessness could not be more palpable. As we shared this feedback with Gov. Tim Walz, we have seen additional exemptions added to the list of essential businesses, including landscapers, marinas and dock installers.
However, simply expanding the list of “essential” businesses one at a time is the wrong approach to keeping Minnesota’s economy afloat.
We recognize there is no perfect science to determine exactly “how” and “when” to lift the broad range of restrictions currently in place. However, with more than 451,470 unemployment insurance claims filed since March 16, understanding the long-term economic impacts of the governor’s extended executive order is a priority on footing equal to that of getting expansive COVID-19 testing in the state.
Unfortunately, the lack of public coordination, data and planning from our state’s executive indicates this is not the case.
Now, this is not to say we are completely without progress. Earlier this week the governor signaled a renewed interest in working with state legislators to measure and coordinate the economic impacts of our response. Elements of his administration’s health modeling also indicate that we can protect the elderly and vulnerable while opening the economy without significant change in the risk to the population from COVID-19. And the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has begun listening to the calls from businesses to establish recommendations for reopening.
Nevertheless, workers, families and businesses in Minnesota remain without certainty or a clear plan of action to get them back to work.
Elected leaders — during times of calm or crisis — must chart and adjust course as necessary to achieve the best possible outcome for the people they serve. We understand that reopening Minnesota will look different for various industries and from business to business. Rather than a one-size fits all “essential” business qualification, we propose allowing businesses to meet the social distancing and sanitization guidelines in their own unique ways so they can open safely and quickly.
Minnesota is home to amazing people who are up to the challenge and will do what’s right and healthy for themselves and for their customers. We hear over and over again, “I can open up and keep people safe,” and we should trust our small businesses and employers to do the best thing for their employees and customers.
Moreover, though the totality of Minnesota’s wage, revenue and economic losses from COVID-19 remains to be seen, they will continue to grow the longer our state remains closed. As the governor seeks to abate these losses, we strongly encourage him to refrain from following the lead of his counterparts in other states who are devising their COVID-19 response around an expectation that the federal government will make them whole through more multitrillion-dollar stimulus packages. Those expectations are severely misguided and only contribute to the larger and more existential crisis for Minnesota and the United States in the future: government stimulus simply cannot revive our entire economy.
Getting people back to work is not only healthy for the economy, but healthy for the mind and spirit of the hardworking people of this state. We have absolute confidence Minnesotans can reignite our economy while staying physically healthy by following recommended distancing and sanitization guidelines.
We recognize there is no playbook or instruction manual on how to respond to a situation like this. And we can say with confidence that every elected official has been working around the clock to do what they feel is right for the residents of our great state. But every Minnesotan deserves certainty that our response to one crisis will not create another.
Gov. Walz needs to put forward a plan to reopen Minnesota’s economy as soon as possible and give all Minnesotans the certainty they need to get back to work. Collaborating with private and public partnerships, listening to businesses of all sizes, Minnesotans deserve a road map to reopen Minnesota, prevent catastrophic COVID-19 surges, and stabilize the lives and livelihoods of our great citizens.
Tom Emmer represents Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District in the U.S. House. Paul Gazelka is majority leader of the Minnesota Senate. Both are Republicans.