As we near the end of 2020, which has been so hard for so many, I want to take a moment to thank you, and all of Minnesota.
It is my great honor to represent you in Washington D.C., and to do whatever I can in the United States Senate to make progress for people. I'll be honest, this can be a frustrating place, and progress comes slow. But progress comes, sometimes because of what we accomplish in the Senate, and often because of what you do.
In the midst of this global pandemic, which has shaken the foundations of our health and well being, my priorities have been Minnesota's priorities - getting direct help to families, small businesses, and our health care system. As I write this, we are close to passing a $900B bipartisan COVID emergency relief bill, which will provide much needed and long overdue relief to Minnesotans. In the midst of the dark days of this pandemic, this legislation is an economic and health bridge for Minnesota and all Americans, and it is desperately needed.
I'm glad this bill includes several of the provisions that I led or co-sponsored to make it easier to access coronavirus testing and to support vaccine distribution. We expanded tele-health, including for mental health treatment, which has been a growing need during the isolation and economic challenge of the pandemic. We've increased support for food programs, as millions of Americans struggle to feed their families, and we are helping farmers, including small food producers to grow our food. We're providing much-needed rental assistance, for the millions of families that have fallen behind on payments because they lost their jobs. We're providing additional payments of $600 to about 2.5 million Minnesotans to help spur the economy. Finally, we're authorizing another round of relief for small businesses that have suffered during the current crisis.
This bill is far from perfect. I'm very disappointed this legislation does not provide desperately needed help to local, state and Tribal governments, which face deep budget challenges through no fault of their own because of the historic economic downturn caused by COVID. Collectively, over 1.3 million Americans working in the public sector have lost their jobs due to budget challenges. This must be a priority when we return in the new year.
COVID-19 has laid bare the inequities in our county, and hit hardest our elders, front line workers, and black, brown and native people, and all people of color. This bill does not go nearly far enough to address the catastrophic challenges that many folks are experiencing right now paying rent, buying food, and caring for their children. These challenges unite Minnesotans in rural, suburban and city communities, and we need to come together to solve them.
Yes we have challenges, but we've also seen some remarkable achievements this past year. It is verging on miraculous that in ten months we developed COVID vaccines that are safe and effective. Inoculations have begun, starting first with health care workers and those living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. This successful effort is a huge tribute to the scientists, researchers, health care professionals, and thousands of volunteers who participated in vaccine trials. The path back to economic health is through public health, and now we have vaccines to make that happen.
I've also seen so many Minnesotans step up to help each other. Small businesses shifted their manufacturing overnight to make personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer. People stepped in to make sure their elder neighbors had their groceries and medicine if it wasn't safe for them to go out. And millions of us are wearing masks, staying home, and helping to suppress the virus. We've seen our divisions play out on TV, but we've also seen our humanity.
There also have been moments of pure joy this year, even in the midst of so much suffering. I hope it's been the same for you. Archie and I became grandparents for the first time. And yes, I'm the grandma showing everyone pictures of baby Ari eating his first solid food! I haven't seen my Dad Harlan since July. Dad is 90, but he's doing well, except for the rodents who keep chewing on the electrical wires in his truck. If anyone has any ideas for what to do about this, let me know! Our children are hanging in there in this strange and difficult year. Mason and Julia have done an amazing job being new parents during a global pandemic. Sam and Emily are doing well also, though I know Emily misses her parents in Nebraska. There have been been lots of backyard fires and the family text chain is very active most days. I've been here in Washington for about month, and I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to getting home to Minnesota, and my family.
Peace be with you all this holiday season.