Beyond unemployment: How COVID-19 is affecting programs in Minnesota

Beyond unemployment: How COVID-19 is affecting programs in Minnesota

Excerpted from MinnPost by Walker Orenstein

Gov. Tim Walz’s restrictions on businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic have had a profound economic impact in Minnesota, causing more than 710,000 people to apply for unemployment benefits since March 16. The Twin Cities metro area alone was down more than 270,000 jobs in April compared to April of 2019.

But the fallout from COVID-19 hasn’t just affected employment. There has also been an increase in need for help paying for food, housing and other daily costs in Minnesota. One way to measure this increase is through calls to a statewide 211 helpline run by the Greater Twin Cities United Way. That organization has seen an explosion in the number of people needing assistance.

Hennepin County, on the other hand, has had only a modest influx in applications for cash aid like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps people buy groceries. While the county is bracing for greater need down the road, it’s even reporting something peculiar: a decrease in April applications for short-term, emergency assistance programs.

Huge spikes in 211 help calls
The United Way runs a free 211 helpline for people to call in seeking aid to meet their basic needs. When a person calls, texts, or chats online with 211 operators, they can get a referral for what service could best help them, including government aid programs.
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