Originally published April 30

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – After months of debate at the capitol, lawmakers came together to pass a bill providing bonus pay for eligible frontline workers during the pandemic.

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“I think it’s a great way to say, hey, we notice you, we see what you were doing, and that’s great,” Afro Deli and Grill manager Joseph Hennebry said.

Employees at Afro Deli and Grill are among more than 600,000 Minnesotans now eligible for frontline worker payments, an estimated $750 check to say thanks for their hard work during the pandemic.

“People still needed to eat, to go grocery shopping, people needed to take their pets to the vet, there’s all these places I feel like we didn’t show a lot of emphasis on who were still out there,” Hennebry said.

Workers would need to have worked at least 120 hours, not been eligible to work remote, and not collected unemployment benefits for more than 20 weeks. Income is capped at $175,000 for people in direct contact with COVID patients, and $85,000 for others.

“I would sometimes make the boxes, sometimes I would be on the bus handing them out to families,” Sherrod Greene said.

Greene works at North High School as a food service coordinator and spent months during the pandemic making sure kids were still being fed.

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“I just enjoy serving the kids, talking to the kids, being an ear or a shoulder for them to lean on,” he said.

Now, a father of a 2-week-old little girl, he said the money will go toward essentials.

“Wipes and diapers and anything to take care of the house, because it’s not going to take care of rent,” he said.

He hopes the gesture will lead to more support for frontline workers now, and in the future.

An estimated 667,000 Minnesota will be eligible for a payment. Frontline workers are defined as those who worked over the last two years in long-term care and home care, health care, emergency response, public health, social service, regulatory service, courts and corrections, child care, food service, retail, temporary shelters and hotels, building services, public transit, ground and air transportation services, manufacturing, and vocational rehabilitation.

“I think $700 could go a long way for people so yeah it’s a great start,” Hennebry said.

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Those seeking frontline worker bonuses must apply through Minnesota’s Department of Labor and Industry over the next 45 days. Details of the program can be found here.

Kirsten Mitchell