2021 Minnesota Policy Platform

Minnesota has historically been prosperous due to strong communities with thriving local businesses, a vibrant workforce, smart public investments, and communities and local businesses that support each other. The COVID pandemic has frayed this infrastructure and laid bare inequities and gaps in our social safety net that have been hidden or ignored for too long. 

Main Street Alliance of Minnesota’s 2021 State Policy Platform focuses on short and long term supports that small businesses and workers need to survive the current crisis and to thrive in the future. We use an equity lens and focus particularly on strategies that support BIPOC- and women-entrepreneurs of all races. The policy choices further reflect the interdependent relationship between a community’s economic and environmental health and the success of the small businesses that bring their cities, towns, and communities together. In addition, many of these strategies are equalizers that will enable smaller “main street” businesses to better compete with larger businesses.

Core Areas of Work

** Top priorities are noted with asterisks. 

Additional financial assistance and policy changes for small businesses in response to COVID

Over 99% of businesses in Minnesota are small businesses; they create the majority of new jobs each year and nearly half of all employees across the state work for a small business. This is especially true outside of the Twin Cities metro region, where the majority of people work for small businesses. During the pandemic, 20% of small businesses have closed, with higher numbers among BIPOC- and women-small business owners (40% of Black-owned small businesses have closed). Many others are struggling and unsure if they will make it until a vaccine is widely available. To preserve jobs and Main Streets across Minnesota, the Legislature must help small businesses survive the devastating impact of the pandemic by supporting:

  • Conforming with federal tax changes to the extent needed to ensure small businesses receive full benefit from federal COVID relief programs** (HF 501, SF 263)
       
  • Grants for small businesses that are targeted to businesses that have lost funds due to COVID**
    • Use data to target and scale funds; ensure there are few obstacles for quick distribution
    • Include accountability measures, such as publicly naming recipients and authorizing DOR to request documentation of eligibility
  • Funding for small business startups that were created since January 1, 2020**  Since they’re brand new, they likely cannot show a loss, but the climate is not conducive to success and they need help to survive and to retain jobs for those they employ. 

  • Requiring insurance companies to honor their coverage and prohibit undue rate increases 
    • Some businesses diligently paid premiums for business interruption coverage in case they had to temporarily close due to issues beyond their control. Many businesses were surprised to find that viruses were excluded in the fine print. Even in cases in which interruption from viruses is supposed to be covered, insurance companies are denying claims. Insurance companies should be required to honor this coverage, and provide prominent plain language notice about what is excluded. 
    • Ensure small businesses are not punished for filing insurance claims from the pandemic or uprising. Prohibit insurance companies from imposing exorbitant premium increases.
         
  • Restricting commercial rent charged for spaces (re)built with public funds to prevent gentrification (HF 6, SF 165)
    • Landlords who receive public support to rebuild property damaged during the uprising should be limited in the amount they can charge for rent to ensure continued access for small, independent businesses.

  • Limiting the fees and commissions that meal delivery apps charge (HF 299)
    • Some charge as much as 30% or higher which wipes out any profit for restaurants. Cap the fees at 10% or 15% as cities and other states have done. Even better, make the cap permanent. 

  • Requiring big box retailers to adhere to the same rules as small businesses. 
    • If there is a need to temporarily close retailers again, ensure that departments within big-box stores and dollar stores selling “non-essential” goods are closed to the public as well. 

  • Providing additional financial support for unemployed workers, so they continue to have resources to care for their families and spend money at our establishments

Quality Jobs & the Caring Economy

MinnesotaCare Public Option:**  (HF 11, SF 1029) The high cost of health care strains the budget of businesses, families, and states. Small businesses lack the leverage of large corporations, which can negotiate lower premiums and better health plans for their employees. We need to strengthen and improve the Affordable Care Act for individuals and small businesses. 

For more than two decades, MinnesotaCare has provided an affordable insurance option for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans. Main Street Alliance of Minnesota supports legislation to allow individuals and small businesses to buy into MinnesotaCare as an additional, public health insurance option for employees. 

Paid Family and Medical Leave:** (HF 1200, SF 1205) Main Street Alliance of Minnesota supports the establishment of a publicly-administered, family and medical leave insurance program. A statewide insurance program will level the playing field for small businesses and make Minnesota more affordable for and attractive to young professionals and working families. The COVID pandemic has only emphasized the importance of this type of safety net for employers, employees, and their families. 

Earned Sick and Safe Time:**  (HF 7, SF 29) Main Street Alliance of Minnesota recommends building off successful policies in Duluth, Minneapolis, and Saint Paul to pass statewide legislation that ensures all Minnesotans have access to a basic level of accrued sick and safe time. The law should create a baseline standard that applies to all businesses and creates a level playing field for businesses who already provide comprehensive leave packages. 

Child Care:** (HF 1278 and HF 1024) Main Street Alliance recognizes an important relationship between a stable, supported workforce and high-quality child care. As has been shown during the pandemic as parents have tried to juggle working from home with caring for their children, child care allows parents to get to work reliably and helps children learn, grow, and thrive. An inability to access affordable child care is one of the biggest factors keeping parents out of the workforce.  The state should increase its investments that provide families with access to affordable, flexible childcare options, and have one state department focused on early childhood development.

Sufficient State Revenues: Even before the pandemic and economic downturn we are currently living through, Minnesota was facing grave challenges, including some of the highest racial disparities in the country, unaffordable child care, college, and senior care, as well as economic systems that advantage the Fortune 500 at the expense of Main Street businesses. It does not need to be this way. Minnesota is a state of abundance and could choose to make equitable investments (including those listed above) to help all of its residents, including those from BIPOC communities, actually thrive. We urge elected leaders to raise additional revenue, by raising taxes on individuals and large corporations with the most resources at their disposal. 

Increased access to capital for BIPOC- and women-entrepreneurs

Minnesota needs to do more to increase access to capital for small businesses, particularly BIPOC- and women-entrepreneurs. One of the major challenges entrepreneurs confront is lack of quality, affordable capital. As shown by the flawed federal Paycheck Protection Program, banks favor large corporations over small, independent businesses, making it especially hard for entrepreneurs to launch and expand their businesses. Systemic racial and gender inequities in private banking further and dramatically reduce support for BIPOC- and women-entrepreneurs of all races. Moreover, it hurts the small business sector and the state overall by exacerbating wealth inequality and compounding racial and gender wealth gaps. In 2021, Minnesota should:  

  • Conduct an assessment of the many business support programs available to understand how the state can most effectively support small business development and growth into the future, particularly for BIPOC- and women-entrepreneurs.**  The study should include an examination of approaches used around the country with input and oversight from Minnesotans who own small businesses about what works and what they need (funding and wrap-around training and technical assistance about managing a business, taxes, insurance, etc.).
  • Increase the annual state investment in the Emerging Entrepreneurs' Program, which uses a revolving fund to provide loans to traditionally disadvantaged business owners, including those from BIPOC communities, women, veterans, low-income people, and disabled Minnesotans, from $500,000 to $2.5 million.

  • Increase funding for outreach about technical assistance programs, like Hennepin County did, as well as funding options at the county, state, and federal levels, so that small business owners and those who want to open a small business are aware of available resources. 

  • Support the Catalyst Group’s initiative to make changes to the state procurement process to make it easier for BIPOC- and women-owned businesses to qualify for state contracts.

  • Provide funding to local governments to assist small business owners to buy their buildings.

  • Leverage State bank deposits / investment funds to increase loans or guarantee loans to small businesses, particularly in BIPOC communities; consider the Massachusetts Small Business Banking Partnership that moved state bank deposits from Wall Street banks to local community banks that agree to do this. 



Main Street Alliance of Minnesota is part of a national network of values-based small business owners who have united around public policy issues impacting their businesses, their employees, and the communities they serve.

 

Contact Minnesota State Manager Beth Fraser at [email protected]