District 55A Rep. Brad Tabke, D-Shakopee, and U.S. Congresswoman Angie Craig, who represents all of Scott County, held a virtual town hall meeting March 31 to discuss novel coronavirus updates and how the COVID-19 relief bill will affect Shakopee individuals and businesses.

The $2 trillion bipartisan bill, which was passed by the U.S. Senate last week, provides funding for individuals, couples, and their children 16 years old and under. It also provides relief for small businesses, extended unemployment benefits to laid off, furloughed and gig employees, loan forgiveness, access to unemployment insurance and other plans to help relieve the economic impact of COVID-19. 

Craig, a Democrat who flew to Washington, D.C. March 27 to vote in favor of the relief package, said one of her priorities was to make sure unemployment benefits would be extended to part-time and gig employees. Craig said she’s received many calls from college students, however, who feel left out of the bill, which provides $500 to qualifying families for each child 16 years and under, and $1,200 to each individual who files taxes independently and earns less than $75,000 per year.

Many college students file as dependents under their parents, but neither the parents or the students would receive stimulus relief under the current bill, which looks at taxes filed in 2018, unless a resident has already filed for 2019, Craig said.

“The act excluded 17-year-olds and above,” Craig said. “I did not think this was on purpose. I think it was buried in the document. I believe this was an oversight in the bill.”

On March 31, a press release announced a bill to expand the definition of a dependent for the purposes of the relief bill to include children younger than 19, students 24 and younger and no age limit for dependents who are disabled. 

Craig's bill was cosponsored by 86 bipartisan members of Congress, according to the release. 

Craig said she sent a letter to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer addressing what she believed was an oversight in the bill.

“I’ll be introducing it this afternoon, and my staff will literally bring the bill up to the Capitol and drop it for me,” she said. “Let’s make sure in the next stimulus bill we get this language in there.”

The relief package also offers funding for hospitals and health systems, loans and grants for small businesses, emergency education funding and oversight to ensure corporations prohibit stock buybacks and money for executives.

“I can’t tell you the number of small businesses I’ve talked to over the last 10 days who are emotional… it is critical to get these dollars out to small businesses,” Craig said.

Craig said she thinks the government also needs to look into providing better insurance to local cities and counties.

“All these businesses being told they have to close means many of our cities are in trouble, because of this tax revenue to the city,” she said. “In many of my cities, it’s well over 50% of city revenue. I think this is going to put pressure on many of our communities.”

Tabke said at the state level, Congress passed a bill that says residents cannot be evicted unless they pose a danger to those around them, among several other packages to help ease the burden on as many people impacted by COVID-19 as possible. 

“We also passed money in there that goes into programs to help with housing, to send a signal to landlords to keep people in their homes,” Tabke said. “That’s a really important piece that we’re doing.”

Republican Senate District 55 Rep. Eric Pratt, who did not attend the virtual town hall, said he's on board with the federal relief package, adding he agreed with Craig's point that there was an oversight in excluding children who are older than 16 from the stimulus bill. Pratt said he's been focused on working at the state Capitol to get things done. 

"It’s been extremely busy, so I guess I’m trying to figure out what we need to do," Pratt said. "Last week, we passed two loan programs, we passed unemployment insurance revisions, and now we’re starting to turn our attention to getting this economy jump started again." 

Maddie DeBilzan graduated with a journalism degree from Bethel University. She’s interned at Salon Media and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Outside of work, she sifts through Goodwill clothing racks, listens to Ben Rector's music and goes on long runs.

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