Rochester Mayor Kim Norton says the city needs more federal assistance to help pay for its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Norton and other community leaders participated in a conference call with DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Monday. Norton pointed to aid that larger cities in Minnesota have received to help prepare them for the economic fallout and emergency preparations for the ongoing spread of the virus. She said being home to Mayo Clinic makes Rochester an integral part of the COVID-19 response and fallout.
"With Mayo Clinic and what we’re going to be doing for the whole region, we’re really coming up short," Norton said.
She pointed to the fact that Rochester received no Urban Area Security Initiative funds while the Twin Cities and their surrounding counties did. The bill also directed $430,000 in community development block grants to Rochester while Duluth received $1.4 million, she said.
However, overall, Norton said the emergency legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Trump last week will help the city.
Kathleen Harrington, president at Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, praised the innovation of legislation’s payroll protection loan program.
That program sets aside $350 billion for businesses with less than 500 employees to cover payroll for three months.
Harrington called the provision "innovative" and said the bill will help area small businesses.
"We’re the weakest part of the economy and the most vital part of the economy," she said.
Klobuchar said the U.S. Small Business Administration is still drafting instructions to banks about the loan program. However, she said small business owners interested in the loans should contact their banks now.
Klobuchar encouraged Harrington and Norton to stay in touch with local businesses applying for aid and contact her office if there are problems or delays. She said the program could hit some procedural snags as it’s executed since it’s a new and unique program.
"Sometimes it helps just individually pushing cases," Klobuchar said.
Norton asked about personal protection equipment for city first responders and medical staff. She said the city has about a two month supply but added estimates show the epidemic will peak about July. Norton said she is concerned about having access to equipment.
"We understand there’s more urgent need around the country right now, but we may have an urgent need down the line," she said.
Klobuchar also acknowledged the unique economic impact Rochester is feeling with all elective procedures at Mayo Clinic postponed.
"This is hurting small businesses there in a unique way," Klobuchar said.
Inside the clinic, doctors and staff there are holding about 500 video conference visits with patients per day, said Halena Gazelka, Mayo Clinic’s medical director for public affairs, who also sat in on the call. About 20,000 Mayo employees have been able to work from home, she said.
Mayo is also ramping up testing, Gazelka told Klobuchar. Currently, about 5,000 tests are processed there per day, she Gazelka said.
"We’re expecting that to grow," she said.