rita Albrecht

In his op-ed on April 29, Dist. 5 State Senator Justin Eichorn says that he wants the economy to reopen safely. We all do. But rather than making the safety of all Minnesotans a top concern, he seems to be more focused on reopening quickly and crossing his fingers that the novel coronavirus doesn’t come roaring back.

This global pandemic has caused a major economic crisis across the world and nation. People in every sector are out of work. Minnesota and the northland have not been spared, and everyone is hurting. The best way to get us back on track, is to adequately deal with the underlying public health crisis as quickly as possible.

As the Mayor of Bemidji, I’ve been meeting daily with residents, business owners, health care workers, public safety professionals and mayors from across Minnesota. They all agree that now, more than ever, we need to listen to scientists and public health officials.

And we know this: A premature reopening will not only lead to needless deaths, it will ultimately lead to a renewed and longer shut down as well. This is not in anyone’s interest, least of all our care givers. We can’t, on the one hand call our health care, public safety, and front-line workers heroes and then push to open everything too soon. It exponentially raises the risk of them coming into contact with this deadly virus.

What we should do is provide economic support for those who are unemployed until the time is right to reopen. Unemployment is a safety net that can mean the difference between feeding your kids or not.

The “government bureaucracy” that the Senator derides is the reason that Minnesota is one of the first states in the nation to implement both the $600 per week additional compensation and the 13-week extension of benefits available under the CARES Act. On Friday, Minnesota began to offer unemployment assistance, helped by federal funds, for contractors, the self-employed and others who don’t usually qualify for it.

Gov. Tim Walz and his team are using the best information available to make good decisions for when to reopen. When will that be? It is hard to say, but using a phased approach, last week, Gov. Walz gave the green light to opening resorts and additional non-essential businesses.

But here’s a crucial point. In his letter, Sen. Eichorn mentioned blue-collar workers twice. The Democratic Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party has long supported policies that are in the interest of blue-collar workers, in the face of Republican opposition.

Instead of stepping up and working for the good of us all, Sen. Eichorn is trying to present himself as a defender of hard-working Minnesotans. But what he is advocating will only lead to additional hardship for all Minnesotans, including those in the industries he mentions.

Minnesotans can be proud that we are helping our neighbors, providing resources to those who have lost their jobs, and staying home to keep our loved ones safe. We’ll be together soon. For now, let’s stay the course.

Rita Albrecht is the mayor of Bemijdi and candidate for Senate District 5.

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