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Klobuchar checks in with area leaders

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    In a conference call with selected commissioners from Polk, Norman, Pennington, Red Lake, Marshall and Roseau counties, along with Cam Fanfulik of the Northwest Regional Development Commission in Warren, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said her focus is on working to get a second COVID-19 relief/stimulus package passed to provide a much-needed boost to small businesses and others struggling to survive.

    “If we can get some funding into the spring and then a vaccine, people might feel more confident,” the Minnesota Democrat said. “…The idea would be to extend (the Paycheck Protection Program) until a vaccine comes out.

    “The Treasury Department now all of a sudden is interested in moving ahead,” she continued. “There’s no doubt CARES Act funding improved things; now we just have to take it to the next level.”

    During the call, Fanfulik and the county commissioners, including Districdt 2 Polk County Commissioner Warren Strandell of East Grand Forks, updated Klobuchar on things like the 2020 harvest, which is looking significantly better than the 2019 harvest, and also on how they are investing CARES Act money previously allocated to them.

    Fanfulik said CARES Act dollars have made it possible for NWRDC to hire a “economic resiliency” specialist, and has also helped the agency almost double its revolving loan fund for businesses.

    “We need to get that money pushed out the door,” Fanfulik said. “We’re getting a lot of interest from businesses.”

    He said NWRDC is also responding to requests from the counties it serves to help administer their CARES Act funds.

    “We’re excited about the work we’ll be able to do with the funds over the next couple of years, with business retention, broadband, and much more,” Fanfulik added.

    Polk County received just under $4 million in CARES Act funds. Strandell said the county has earmarked $775,000 for a consortium that includes Northwestern Mental Health Center, Tri-Valley Opportunity Council, Polk County Public Health and related agencies, and school districts. Tri-County Community Corrections and various soil and water conservation districts have received $450,000, he said, and around $750,000 is going toward small business relief.

    “We’re trying to make good use of this money,” Strandell said. “We don’t want to waste it, but we don’t want to send it back.”

    Klobuchar mentioned a bipartisan bill she’s working on with Republican North Dakota U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer to invest more money in smaller broadband carriers, “who seem to be better at getting broadband out there.”

    Another “major focus” for 2021, which she said will likely be dependent on who is elected president, will be a “major infrastructure package” that will also include broadband expansion.

    “The pandemic has put a magnifying class on this problem,” Klobuchar said. With people working from home and kids being educated from home, the number of homes lacking high-speed broadband internet has become apparent. “It puts you at such a disadvantage,” she said. “I’ve long wanted this fixed, and I think it’s finally going to get fixed.”

    Klobuchar also fielded questions and complaints about how the pandemic has also put a magnifying glass on healthcare inequality and disparities in access. But, beyond the pandemic, she was told that health care insurance premiums are simply not sustainable for too many families.

    “My solution is a public option to create competition with insurance companies, which we really don’t have right now,” she said.

Bernie Lieder

    During the call, Klobuchar also mentioned the recent passing of Bernie Lieder of Crookston, who served in World War II and was a longtime state legislator representing this area.

    “I always think of Bernie,” she said. “I have very fond memories of eating Chippers with him.”

    Klobuchar said she spoke with Lieder’s family and “it sounded like to the very end, he was still involved and talking politics.”