U.S. Rep. Angie Craig

U.S. Rep. Angie Craig

As lawmakers in Washington work to finalize the latest stimulus bill, Congresswoman Angie Craig convened remotely with Minnesota nonprofit leaders on Thursday to gauge the severity of COVID-19's effects on the state. 

As nonprofits enter what would have otherwise been their season for galas and other public fundraisers, the organizations across Minnesota are instead being slammed with acute demands on their systems.

Jinny Palen, the executive vice president of Minnesota Association of Community Mental Health Programs who was one of about a dozen community leaders in on a conference call town hall with Craig on Thursday, said that the mental health services she helps facilitate are becoming more difficult to operate amid the COVID-19 pandemic as her and other nonprofits operate under "razor thin margins."

As margins are only slated to get thinner, Palen made her case to Craig to consider safety net providers in the latest iteration of a stimulus during this sensitive period for many who may be experiencing heightened or newly exhibited mental health crises amid the current wave of social distancing.

"We worry that for some folks it will turn into social isolation," Palen said. 

Craig also called upon multiple food shelves across the state who said that they're struggling to keep up with a flood of visitors and could benefit from relaxed standards as to whom they could distribute food.

"We find ourselves on the wrong side of the demand curve," Jason Vianna of The Open Door food pantry in Eagan said. 

Jenny Larson of Three Rivers CAP told Craig she would like verbiage in the latest stimulus bill that protected people from losing benefits from programs like the SNAP program if they were to receive cash assistance from the federal government specifically earmarked to address the financial strain caused by COVID-19.

Maureen Nelson, the executive director of the United Way of Goodhue, Wabasha and Pierce Counties, who works alongside domestic violence shelters, stated that the shelters she works alongside are facing concerns surrounding paying employees overtime hours.

Charlie Mandile, the executive director of HealthFinders Collaborative, a healthcare network that services a high amount of uninsured individuals with low income out of Northfield, stated that he doesn’t want to see healthcare providers in the Midwest be overlooked when the federal government is allocating funds to go toward COVID-19 test kits as testing slows in Minnesota.

“It really feels like we’re flying blind here,” Mandile said.

A common thread among the nonprofits who joined in the conference call were concerns about internet accessibility in rural areas as the country turns to working from home. One nonprofit representative on Thursday had to call into the roundtable using her cellphone because her office phone was unreliable.

Following the roundtable, Craig noted that unemployment insurance, healthcare will top her list of priorities as she and her colleagues draft the latest stimulus. Lawmakers are working across the aisle to complete the package that will likely soon hit President Donald Trump’s desk.

“We want to finish the negotiation on a bi-partisan basis,” Craig told reporters, who were in on the conference call. “I’m rooting for the president here. When he wins America wins. It’s time to put politics aside.”

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