ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers have approved a $200 million emergency funding plan for health care providers in the state preparing to deal with the coronavirus on Tuesday, March 17.

Speedy votes in the House of Representatives and Senate early Tuesday morning came after hours of backroom negotiations between legislative leaders and health committee chairs over how much the bill should cover and whether hospitals should be eligible for grants, loans or both. Lawmakers tried to quickly pass the proposal ahead of a one-month recess of the Legislature, and Gov. Tim Walz signed it into law later the same day.

In a Tuesday afternoon news release, Walz said the state's health care facilities "are Minnesota’s first line of defense against COVID-19."

“I am proud of this urgent, bipartisan action to support our state’s health care infrastructure during this unprecedented public health event," he said.

At about 3 a.m. Tuesday, March 17, the House unanimously approved the $50 million appropriation to the state's Public Health Response Contingency Account and $150 million appropriation to a new Health Care Response Fund. The Minnesota Senate unanimously passed the proposal less than an hour earlier after news Monday, March 16, that the state's number of confirmed cases of the COVID-19 grew to 54.

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The new funding stream will help health care providers prepare for COVID-19, the illness that stems from the coronavirus, and establish new testing facilities, pay staff, fund protective equipment and more. Health care providers can access the funding as grants but must agree to screen, test and treat uninsured individuals and to set median rates for patients seeking care out of network for COVID-19.

Any funds not spent to curb the pandemic will be returned to the state's general fund.

“While each of us is working as hard as we can to decrease the risk of transmission, we must ensure our health care providers have the resources they need to take care of Minnesotans who may be afflicted with COVID-19,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, said in a release. “These investments are critical to addressing this pandemic and making sure Minnesotans who get sick get the care they need.”

On the other side of the aisle, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said that while the bill offers hospitals assistance, it also "includes protections for taxpayers" by canceling any unspent dollars back to the general fund and outlining consequences for unauthorized grant spending.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and Hortman told reporters on Monday morning they'd move to an "on-call" status for the next month after they approved the funds for Minnesota hospitals, which means they would move much of their work away from the Capitol to limit large gatherings of people and potential spread of the virus at least until April 14.

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