By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Senate overwhelmingly passed a $216 million economic relief bill Monday, as well as a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits.

Members of the Minnesota House discussed the bill late into the evening, and are expected to approve it by early Tuesday morning.

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The deal would provide $90 million in direct grants to restaurants, bars and bowling alleys whose business is down 30% or more. The grants will range from $10,000 to $45,000 depending on the business’s size.

Another $112 million will go to Minnesota counties to award grants to businesses who are also down less than 30%.

And $14 million will be grants to theaters and convention centers, with grants starting at $15,000 for the first screen up to $150,000 per theater.

While the help is desperately needed, some say it’s too little, too late — including Democratic Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent.

“I take this bill as a step in the right direction, but it is a small step, and there is much more needed for our communities,” Kent said.

Many Republicans who voted for the bill, including Sen. Eric Pratt, placed some of the blame on the Gov. Tim Walz’s shutdowns.

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“No, I don’t think this is enough, and I hope the governor opens up businesses,” Pratt said.

But Democrats defended the governor, including Sen. John Marty.

“Let’s not pretend that we’re doing this because the governor caused this problem. The governor didn’t cause this problem,” Marty said.

Many agreed the limited relief does not touch so much of what the virus has taken. GOP Sen. Carla Nelson says it will have a long-lasting impact.

“We’re going to pay for this for years, members,” Nelson said. “Our children are suffering, they’re going to continue to suffer.”

Republicans and Democrats disagreed about whether restaurants and businesses that continue to violate the shutdown should be able to receive relief checks. DFL House leaders say no, while Republican leaders suggested those businesses should not be punished.

Hospitality Minnesota, the organization that represents Minnesota restaurants and bars, released a statement Monday saying, “While the bill is not perfect, it strikes the important balance of providing swift direct financial aid to a large number” of businesses.

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Gov. Tim Walz is expected to decide on Wednesday what to do with dial-back restrictions for businesses and social gatherings. The restrictions are currently set to expire at late Friday evening.

Esme Murphy