Gov. Tim Walz’s administration gave nearly $100,000 in coronavirus relief funds to a Minnesota nonprofit that specializes in “abortion doula” services, according to state contracts published Tuesday by Senate Republicans.
Using his emergency powers, Walz was able to spend nearly $2 billion in COVID-19 relief funds without the approval of the Legislature. Republicans now want a say in how the next round of federal aid, expected to be $2.8 billion, will be spent.
“We need to vote to keep federal money under legislative control. Democrats in the Senate need to join us, Democrats in the House need to lead on this, and the governor needs to understand that the voice of the people is important in federal money decisions,” said Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, who obtained the state contracts through a data practices request.
In one case, a nonprofit called Spiral Collective received $97,000 across two contracts to provide “current information on COVID-19 effects related to the maternal-child population by building an online community for families to receive resources and support.”
According to its website, Spiral Collective is a “chronically ill, disabled, queer, trans, BIPOC-centered full spectrum reproductive and healing justice and care work collective.” The group is particularly concerned with “eliminating barriers to abortion access by honoring bodily autonomy and collective liberation.”
“We are focusing primarily on abortion doula/companion work in and out of clinics and hospitals at this time. We maintain active clinic partnerships with Planned Parenthood Vandalia Clinic, Whole Woman’s Health, and Family Tree Clinic,” says Spiral Collective’s website.
Another contract worth $45,000 was awarded to KMOJ, a local radio station focused on serving communities of color. Under the terms of the contract, $12,000 was used to broadcast Gov. Walz’s press conferences and another $10,000 was set aside for “30-second MDH spots.”
“A news agency should just cover the news; they shouldn’t be paid to cover the news,” said Benson.
Gov. Walz briefly addressed the matter Tuesday, saying his administration “wouldn’t have to spend as much if there wasn’t so much misinformation out there.”
A third contract went to the American Indian Cancer Foundation, which received $50,000 to engage community members “through an online survey and virtual talking circles to discuss resources and community experiences and needs including recommended supplies for quarantine kits.”
Thousands of dollars were awarded to two public relations companies, including New York-based PR specialist Kate Brickman, who was paid $275 per hour to help state health officials and the governor’s office respond to media requests.
An amended contract between Brickman and the Department of Health indicates that she was paid up to $200,000.
Another applicant called the Lower Phalen Creek Project received $19,000 to distribute a “health and wellbeing guide and bundle which will include information about both traditional herbal teas and medicines and COVID-19 information.”
Several groups received money to produce videos on the pandemic, but reached only a handful of people.
These revelations come as state leaders negotiate Minnesota’s next two-year budget, which needs to be passed by the Legislature’s May 17 adjournment to avoid a special session. If the negotiations do go to a special session, lawmakers have until June 30 before a shutdown kicks in.