During a conference call with local leaders and media Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar heard gratitude for federal aid to combat COVID-19 and the financial devastation it is causing.
Klobuchar also listened to a long list of serious concerns.
Mankato Mayor Najwa Massad said she’s hearing from business owners who say the application for federal relief — including forgivable loans for those who keep employees working — is too complicated.
Blue Earth County Board chairman Vance Stuehrenberg said the county is worried their property tax and other revenue will dry up amid massive unemployment and financial strain, making it difficult to provide public services.
Dr. James Hebl, regional vice president at Mayo Healthcare Southwest, said that while they are prepared, the number of people needing hospitalization will at some point outstrip their capacity.
Randy Farrow, CEO of Mankato Clinic, said they are starting to run down on personal protective equipment and are seeing serious financial impacts on their business. He worries the clinic could be left short of staff and resources when the crisis ends and pent-up needs of patients set in.
And nearly all said they were deeply concerned that people were out in public more than necessary and not doing social distancing.
Klobuchar said she believes the Trump administration was not prepared for the pandemic, including having enough testing equipment ready.
She said she continues to stay with Sen. Tina Smith in Washington because Klobuchar’s husband, now at their home in Minnesota, had been hospitalized with COVID-19 and hasn’t yet been cleared to be around other people.
“I’m staying with Tina, eating her frozen burritos and becoming kind of a squatter.”
Klobuchar said the more than $2 trillion rescue bill passed by Congress was not perfect. “More needs to be done, but it was a good start.”
She told Massad that banks locally will likely be able to help business owners navigate through applications for financial relief. But she said the rules, written by federal agencies, are just being released and it will take time for banks and others to absorb the rules.
Stuehrenberg said the county has moved quickly to set up ways to serve people remotely, including those served by Human Services. The jail is working to release low-level offenders. And he said the crisis shows the need for high-speed broadband service across Minnesota.
Stuehrenberg said the reduction in county revenues will require more aid. “We believe more federal financial support will be needed.”
Hebel said Mayo has been pleading with local businesses and universities to really comply with the governor’s orders. “I still see a lot of people out on the roads.”
Klobuchar said businesses that are open also have to get more serious about enforcing distancing rules, and she said grocery stores that have special times for seniors and at-risk customers to shop need to bar anyone else from being in their stores at the time.
Farrow said their 185 physicians and staff of 830 have been rapidly responding to the crisis. He said that their North Mankato clinic, now designated as a “respiratory clinic,” has already treated nearly 500 patients with COVID-19 symptoms. “And those numbers are continuing to grow.”
He asked Klobuchar to push for legislation that will provide more financial assistance to businesses with more than 500 employees to help ensure the clinic is financial viable during and after the crisis.
And he asked she push to ensure Greater Minnesota receives its share in the distribution of personal protective equipment.
“We’re going to be running short very soon.”