As we reflect on 2018, we want to thank the many Montanans who supported our work. During this past year, we witnessed the implementation of significant budget cuts in our collective investments in education, health care, and other critical public services, and we weathered repeated federal attacks on the Affordable Care Act. However, even though 2018 brought significant challenges, we wanted to reflect on some of the successes we shared together and how we can continue to make progress.
State Budget & Revenue
Throughout 2018 we travelled across the state to talk to Montanans and lift up the stories of families hurt by budget cuts. Our staff met with community health providers, mental health and addiction treatment service providers, as well as county sheriffs, case managers, food bank volunteers, city and county health department staff, and every day Montanans who have felt the harmful impact of eliminated or reduced health care services, public assistance office closures, and limited access to resources to help their families make ends meet. Our staff also presented to organizations and conferences across the state such as the Montana League of Cities and Towns conference, Parents Let’s Unite for Kids, Montana Disability Voices, Montana Association of Community Disability Services, and with community groups in Butte, Livingston, and Dillon.
As the budget cuts were implemented and began to take effect, we published a series of blogs that outline the far-reaching effects and unintended consequences of these cuts on our communities, our neighbors with developmental disabilities and long-term care needs, individuals with substance use disorders, low-income working families, and local governments. We even produced several short, personal videos, and we are excited to release these video stories in the coming weeks.
MBPC also hosted the first ever candidate education sessions, bringing together more than 60 legislative candidates of all parties to learn about Montana’s budget and revenue systems. This was a new venture for our organization, and we were excited by the strong turnout. We decided to host these educational sessions to provide information that can assist current and future legislators in better understanding the state budget process. We invited an incredible group of speakers to share their expertise on a few critical parts of the state budget. We are looking forward to working with many of the individuals we met at these candidate education sessions during the 2019 legislative session.
Housing Affordability and Security
In 2018, we pursued inaugural research into housing insecurity and access in Montana. We developed an interactive housing map showing data for each county in Montana and published multiple reports and blogs that provide insight and tools to advocates and decision-makers to address the issue of housing affordability. MBPC also produced county-by-county fact sheets that illuminate the housing affordability issues for low-income, working Montanans.
Throughout 2018, we published eight reports on the health, safety, and economic well-being of American Indians in Montana, including three reports on the importance of investments in criminal justice reforms. In November, MBPC hosted the 2018 State-Tribal Policy Symposium in Helena. The Symposium brought together dozens of tribal leaders, advocates, educators, students, and others from across the state to discuss why the state budget matters to Indian Country. Attendees learned how to engage in the legislative and budget-making processes and how to advocate for greater state investments in their communities. We are excited to offer a digital copy of the 2018 State Budget Handbook for Indian Country, which serves as an overview of the state budgeting process.
Farm Bill and SNAP
Congress finally passed a farm bill in December 2018 that reauthorizes SNAP and provides for modest improvements to program integrity and administration, such as protecting participant privacy and ensuring that procedures do not causing families to lose access to food benefits. The final agreement rejected the House farm bill’s cuts and other harmful changes to SNAP that would have caused more than 2 million people to lose their benefits or face reductions. This victory is the result of over a year of tireless work to contact our Montana congressional delegation and lift up the stories of Montanans who need SNAP to help make ends meet.
Our Team is Bigger and Better Than Ever
MBPC welcomed four new staff members to our team in 2018. With their dedication, passion, and smarts, MBPC is the strongest and most effective organization it has ever been. We have expanded our capacity to dig into critical research areas, such as housing affordability and criminal justice reinvestments in Indian Country. MBPC has been able to travel the state to meet with important partners and present our data and research to organizations impacted by Medicaid expansion and state budget cuts.
Preston Parish joined the team as the State Tribal Policy Fellow in July. This fellowship is part of the State Policy Fellowship program for master’s level students and recent graduates. He analyzes state tax and budget policies with the goal of increasing socioeconomic outcomes and opportunities for American Indians and tribal communities in Montana. Preston grew up on the Bay Mills Indian Reservation in Michigan and is a member of the Bay Mills Indian Community.
Rose Bender has been on staff since December 2018 and now leads MBPC’s research on fiscal policy. She came from the Department of Revenue where she worked as an economist/tax policy analyst, estimating impacts to state revenues and researching policy issues.
Nathan Stein and Elizabeth Darnell are MBPC’s newest additions to the team as our legislative assistants. Nathan and Liz support MBPC’s work to track the state budget and communications on important policy issues that face Montanans living on low-incomes.
At MBPC, we believe all Montanans deserve strong, healthy, and safe communities. During the legislative session, we will continue advocating for a strong state budget with responsible revenue that prioritizes investments to create opportunity for everyone, and we will work hard to ensure that nearly 100,000 Montanans do not lose their health care coverage when they need it most. In the coming days we will have a blog outlining a few of our legislative priorities for 2019.