Montana’s Recovery Depends on Child Care. Relief Funding Can Make it Affordable and Accessible.

Montana KIDS COUNT released a report detailing data on child care availability, quality, and affordability, “Child Care is Critical to a Modern Economy. Montana Has the Opportunity to Make It Affordable and Accessible.” This report finds that Montana families across the state struggle to find and pay for child care. At the same time, child care businesses operate on narrow margins and often must sacrifice worker pay.

“We know that most parents need child care to keep working, but availability is difficult to find. For every three kids under 6, there is only one licensed slot available,” said Xanna Burg, KIDS COUNT Coordinator with the Montana Budget & Policy Center. “Part of the low supply is because child care businesses struggle to stay open and offer good wages to workers. Providers do not have many options though, as parents already cannot afford child care costs.”

Highlights from the report findings for Montana include:

  • The current licensed child care supply provides one slot for every three children under age 6.
  • Six counties do not have even one licensed child care business.
  • Child care often costs more than in-state tuition at UM or MSU.
  • Child care workers earn $22,900 per year if working full time, barely hovering above the minimum wage.

“Child care is essential as Montana reopens because businesses need workers that have a safe and reliable place for their children during the day. Investing in child care is a win for children, families, and businesses,” said Stephanie Morton, Program Manager with Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies. “When child care works, our state can get back to work.”

Montana received more than $200 million in federal relief money to support child care. Montana KIDS COUNT provides ten recommendations for utilizing these funds to build a better child care system for children, parents, and businesses that can help now and in the future. The portion of federal money set aside for child care businesses should focus on areas with significant shortage including rural areas, care for infants and toddlers, and providers with non-traditional hours. Capacity grants to encourage new child care businesses can help bolster supply while additional support for Head Start is a ready-built solution to reach more children in Montana.

Montana KIDS COUNT also created an interactive visualization to explore available data on child care in our state. County-level data on access, quality, and affordability can be found at

About Montana KIDS COUNT

Montana KIDS COUNT is a leading resource for data on child and family well-being in the state and is dedicated to providing current, relevant, and reliable data to shape the issues affecting Montana children and families. More information can be found at Montana KIDS COUNT is a project of the Montana Budget & Policy Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization providing in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues. More information can be found at


Statement of Solidarity

Below is a statement by Montana Budget & Policy Center Co-Directors Heather O’Loughlin and Tara Jensen.

We are outraged by killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee and the countless others who have faced violence as a result of systemic racism. During this time of trauma and tragedy in our country, we are heartened to see so many in our state and around the country standing up for the end to police and government brutality against Black Americans. Montana Budget & Policy Center stands in solidarity with Black persons and communities who suffer at the hands of racial injustice and violence. Black people have the right to go on a run, visit a park, and live in their homes without fear. In short, Black Lives Matter.

MBPC is committed to dismantling systems of oppression that have been used to exclude Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. The hateful ideology of white supremacy in our society continues in discriminatory policies today that results in unequal access to education, housing, health care, and criminal justice. This same structural racism has caused communities of color to suffer the greatest economic hardship and the most devastating health outcomes during this pandemic.

MBPC stands committed to rebuild our state and our country where Black, Indigenous, and People of Color can fully experience justice, economic opportunity, and prosperity.

MBPC Recommendations to Governor Bullock and Coronavirus Fund Relief Task Force on Use of CARES Act Funding

The Honorable Steve Bullock, Governor and the Coronavirus Relief Fund Task Force
Office of the Governor
PO Box 200801
Helena, MT 59602

Dear Governor Bullock and the Coronavirus Relief Fund Task Force:

This pandemic and resulting economic crisis have merely laid bare the longstanding inequities built into our social, economic, and political systems. Our response must be grounded in addressing these injustices and deploying deliberate policies targeted to those most impacted by COVID-19.

To that end, we recommend the following:

  • Prioritize critical support for families struggling to meet basic needs. We recommend the Governor allocate $180 million in emergency rental assistance and other housing services (including supportive housing, housing navigation and tenancy support services) and $50 million in child care assistance, to support families and workers impacted by COVID and the economic recession. Further, the state should invest $5 million in re-entry programs for those on probation and parole, including support for housing, peer support services, and mental health and substance use disorder treatment, to meet the needs of people reentering society after incarceration. The use of coronavirus relief funds (CRF) should be grounded in solutions that promote racial and economic justice.
  • Support increased capacity and infrastructure to ensure families can access benefits and services. The state should invest $10 million in additional support for enrollment assistance and public education and outreach for programs like Medicaid, SNAP, and unemployment insurance. This support should include investments to expand broadband access in rural areas and Indian Country to ensure Montanans can access services remotely.
  • Ensure adequate funding for preventing and slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the state. To the extent not available through other funding streams, the state should allocate funds for testing and tracking, public awareness campaigns, health care for the uninsured affected by COVID-19, and any necessary medical equipment, staff, and supplies.
  • Prioritize the safety and economic security of frontline workers. Frontline workers are putting their lives on the line every single day, so that we can enjoy basic goods and remain safe: health care workers (including nursing home, group home, and home health workers), restaurant staff, grocery store workers, child care workers, delivery drivers, and janitorial and custodial workers. The state should set aside $10 million for future expenditures needed to support frontline workers, including safety equipment, hazard pay, and access to health care and child care.
  • Bolster public and non-profit social service sectors working to address public health needs. Montana should allocate $100 million to support non-profit social service providers, including child care providers, domestic violence and homeless shelters, food banks, and other service providers facing increased demand and expenditures as a result of COVID-19. Expend funds in the most efficient and effective ways possible by building on existing programs and distribution networks and supporting local entities.
  • Invest in broadband infrastructure in rural counties and Indian Country. Lack of internet services is impeding individuals from rural Montana from accessing critical support (UI, SNAP, etc.) and limits families’ ability to work remotely or distance learning. Montana should invest the resources needed to expand broadband internet in Indian Country and other rural areas. This investment is critical in responding to the COVID-19 economic crisis.
  • Prevent any further budgetary cuts that would harm communities and impede economic recovery. The state should set aside at least $400 million in CRF to rebuild the budget stabilization fund and maintain adequate public sector services through and after COVID-19. The state should expect increased need for services to continue for up to 18 months after COVID-19, and expanding and fully investing in services will be crucial for a full recovery.  Additionally, the state should consider investment in housing support, education, and other programs that can bolster families’ ability to weather a potential long-term economic downturn.
  • Provide local and tribal governments with certainty in accessing resources to offset expenditures related to COVID-19. Local governments are grappling with significant cost overruns due to COVID-19, including providing non-congregate shelter for individuals who are homeless and supporting community partners to provide safe and stable housing, food support, and other services for families in need. The state should allocate at least 30 percent ($375 million) of Coronavirus Relief Funds to local and tribal governments and expeditiously release guidance to counties, municipalities, and tribal governments on the reimbursement of necessary expenditures.

We appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback on the critical support needed through the Coronavirus Relief Fund. We are happy to provide additional information as you continue your discussions.



Heather O’Loughlin
Co-Director, Montana Budget & Policy Center


Ruling Against Affordable Care Act Puts Montanans’ Health at Risk

This week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in Texas v. United States that declared a portion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) unconstitutional and sent the rest back to the same lower court judge who has already ruled the entire law unconstitutional, a move that, if eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, puts the health care of hundreds of thousands of Montanans at risk.

“This decision puts the health care of thousands of Montanans at risk,” said Heather O’Loughlin, co-director of the Montana Budget & Policy Center. “While the ACA remains the law of the land for now, if today’s decision is ultimately upheld, 112,000 Montanans would lose coverage and thousands of Montanans with pre-existing conditions will be forced to pay more or could be denied coverage altogether.”

Approximately 85,000 Montanans gained access to health care through the ACA’s health insurance marketplace, and another 88,000 Montanans are now enrolled in affordable health care coverage through Montana’s Medicaid expansion. While this ruling is not final and will likely be elevated to the Supreme Court, it presents a clear threat to the health of the citizens of Montana and the state.

“Today’s decision is deeply concerning to us,” said Stacey Anderson, director of policy and communications for the Montana Primary Care Association. “Montana health centers service more than 110,000 Montanans and every one of those patients has benefitted from the ACA. Whether they have a pre-existing condition, they are a 23-year-old college student who is now able to stay on their parents’ plan, or they gained coverage through expanded Medicaid — our health centers have seen firsthand how the ACA improves people’s lives. Going back to the days of double-digit uninsured patients and plans that don’t cover basic healthcare needs would be devastating. We hope the next court will uphold the law and protect the coverage of hundreds of thousands of Montanans.”

A recent report indicates that if the ACA is struck down, Montana would face one of the largest percentage increases in the number of people uninsured. Estimates project an additional 112,000 Montanans would be uninsured – a 176% increase. This includes Montanans losing access to Medicaid coverage with the elimination of Medicaid expansion and Montanans no longer accessing coverage through the marketplace. Those most likely to lose health care are living on low incomes who will be unable to afford more expensive coverage and those with current or past health problems who are no longer protected by ACA rules and cannot afford private insurance or may be denied coverage altogether. While a percentage of those losing coverage under ACA may be able to access private insurance, this coverage will be more expensive, cover significantly fewer benefits, and require higher out-of-pocket spending for services. If the ACA is struck down, estimates project the state of Montana and health providers will face significant increase in uncompensated care, estimated to grow by over $350 million.

MBPC Submits Comments on Proposed Rule Making Regarding SNAP Standardization of State Heating and Cooling Standard Utility Allowances

SNAP Program Design Branch,
Program Development Division
Food and Nutrition Service
3101 Park Center Drive
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Alexandria, VA 22302

Re:  Notice of Proposed Rule Making — Notice of Proposed Rule Making Regarding Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Standardization of State Heating and Cooling Standard Utility Allowances — RIN 0584-AE69

Dear SNAP Program Design Branch:

I am writing on behalf of the Montana Budget and Policy Center to express our strong opposition to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on a revision of the Standardization of State Heating and Cooling Standard Utility Allowances (HCSUA). We oppose the rule because it will result in a significant loss of benefits to thousands of Montanan households and increase food insecurity and financial hardships throughout the state.

The Montana Budget & Policy Center is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides in-depth research and analysis on tax, budget, and economic policies in order to promote opportunity and fairness for all Montanans.

The proposed rule would jeopardize the health and financial security of over 22,000 Montana households by significantly reducing their ability to purchase the food they need. [i] The proposed rule should be withdrawn.

SNAP is one of the nation’s most effective and efficient programs to reduce food insecurity and lift families and individuals out of poverty. In Montana, SNAP serves over 100,000 people, most of whom are children, elderly or have disabilities.[ii] The proposed cut to the HCSUA would endanger low-income households’ ability to pay for food, as well as have a harmful effect on Montana’s economy.

According to the Department’s own analysis, this proposal would cut $4.5 billion over the next five years. [iii] In Montana, this is a net annual cut of $13 million a year, an 8 percent reduction in the state’s program.[iv] As an agricultural state, SNAP’s benefit to Montana’s economy far exceeds that of helping low-income households obtain food security. SNAP benefits local businesses, grocery stores, and ultimately the entire agricultural sector. Such a large cut would put livelihoods at risk across the state.

This proposed rule change will negatively impact Montana SNAP beneficiaries much more so than those in states with warmer climates. An estimated 42 percent of Montana SNAP households will see a reduction in their benefits due to the proposed rule change with an average cut of $50 a month.[v] Affected households currently receive an average of $228 in benefits a month, making this an average 22 percent cut in monthly benefits.[vi] Such a significant cut totals nearly a week’s worth of food for people who are already struggling to make ends meet.

The proposed rule would cap the HCSUA at a much lower standard than what Montana is currently using, reducing the allowance by 36 percent.[vii] The proposed rule would cap HCSUAs at the 80th percentile of low-income households’ utility costs in the state, unfairly harming households with high utility costs. The Department does not explain the rationale for setting the cap at the 80th percentile when 22 states have had theirs set at the 85th percentile or higher.[viii] The USDA is able to work with states who have set their HCSUA at too low to raise their standards without reducing the benefits of those in other states.

In rural Montana, SNAP is a critical first line of defense against food-insecurity. In communities where the nearest food bank may be many miles away, SNAP allows individuals to purchase the food they need. SNAP responds quickly to economic downturns and natural disasters and helps bolster recovery from setbacks.

Nationwide, this cut will result in 19 percent of SNAP households receiving lower benefits and will disproportionately affect the elderly and people with disabilities. [ix] As Congress has expressed, SNAP’s statutory mission is “to promote the general welfare, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s population by raising levels of nutrition among low-income households.” The Administration is undermining SNAP’s statutory purpose by proposing cutting benefits for these most vulnerable groups. Furthermore, Congress refused to pass such drastic cuts to SNAP in the Farm Bill. This proposed rule change is an attempt to sidestep Congressional authority.

This rule will endanger the health and safety of thousands Montana children, people with disabilities and elderly. It will harm our state’s small businesses and agricultural economy. We strongly oppose this rule, and request that it be withdrawn.


Jackie Semmens

Montana Budget and Policy Center
15 West 6th Avenue, 3E
Helena, MT 59601

[i] Analysis based on data from the USDA FNS. USDA FNS, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program:  Number of Households Participating.

[ii] USDA FNS, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program:  Number of Persons Participating., and  USDA FNS, Characteristics Of Usda Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households:  Fiscal Year 2017 (Summary).

[iii] USDA FNS, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Standardization of State Heating and Cooling Standard Utility Allowance.

[iv] USDA FNS. FY 2017 SNAP HCSUA Values and Proposed Rule Impacts, by State.

[v] USDA FNS, FY 2017 SNAP HCSUA Values and Proposed Rule Impacts, by State and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

[vi] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

[vii] USDA FNS, FY 2017 SNAP HCSUA Values and Proposed Rule Impacts, by State.

[viii] USDA FNS, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Standardization of State Heating and Cooling Standard Utility Allowance.

[ix] USDA FNS, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Standardization of State Heating and Cooling Standard Utility Allowance.

MBPC Provides Comments on Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

SNAP Program Design Branch,
Program Development Division
Food and Nutrition Service
3101 Park Center Drive
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Alexandria, VA 22302

Re:  Notice of Proposed Rule Making — Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Reopening of Comment Period RIN 0584-AE62

Dear SNAP Program Design Branch:

I am writing on behalf of the Montana Budget and Policy Center to express our strong opposition to the United States Department Agriculture’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on a Revision of Categorical Eligibility the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) during the reopening of the comment period. The proposed rule will jeopardize free school meals for nearly one million children. The proposed rule should be withdrawn.

The Montana Budget & Policy Center is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides in-depth research and analysis on tax, budget, and economic policies in order to promote opportunity and fairness for all Montanans.

The proposed changes would cause significant harm to the health and education of Montana children by restricting their access to free and reduced-price school lunches.

The proposed rule ends Montana’s ability to eliminate SNAP asset tests and use a higher income test in order to account for working households with higher expenses such as shelter and childcare.  This policy is known as Expanded Categorical Eligibility in Montana and serves to encourage work by preventing a sudden decrease in benefits if workers receive a raise or work more hours.

In Montana, the proposed rule change will result in over 2,000 households with children losing their SNAP benefits.[i] For families with children, losing access to free school meals in addition to their SNAP benefits will substantially compound their food insecurity.

Free school lunches improve children’s diets overall, and they have academic benefits well. Hungry children cannot learn. Children who experience hunger are more likely to struggle with behavior and academic problems, creating ripple effects in classrooms as teachers spend more time dealing with classroom disruptions and helping students who are falling behind.[ii]

School districts in Montana already struggle with working families being able to pay for school meals, even at reduced prices. In 2018, Helena Public Schools announced an effort to recoup $100,000 in school debt (twenty percent of which had been accumulated by families receiving free and reduced priced meals). The district initially threatened to send families to collection agencies.[iii] With hundreds of families already struggling to pay meals at reduced prices, removing free and reduced-price meals for more students will only exacerbate this problem.

Because the Department did not release the data concerning the number of children who will no longer be able to receive free school lunches during the initial comment period on the proposed rule, Montana’s school districts have not had an opportunity to grasp the extent to which this proposed rule harm Montana children. It is clear, however, that by preventing children from receiving healthy school meals, this proposal puts the health and the education of Montana’s children at risk.

We strongly oppose this rule that would reduce children’s access to healthy food both at home and at school.


Jackie Semmens

Montana Budget and Policy Center
15 West 6th Avenue, 3E
Helena, MT 59601

[i] Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “New Research Analyzes State-Level Impact of USDA Proposal to End SNAP Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility,” Accessed November 1, 2019.

[ii] Food Research and Action Center, “Benefits of School Lunch,” Accessed November 1, 2019.

[iii] Loranger, erin, Helena Independent Record, “Helena Schools to Forgive Some Meal Debts, Collection Agency a ‘Last Resort’,” April 10 2018,

Montana Budget & Policy Center Selected as the New KIDS COUNT Grantee

Contact: Tara Jensen, co-director of public affairs,, 406-422-5848

Today, the Montana Budget & Policy Center (MBPC) announced that, effective January 1, 2020, MBPC will serve as the new host agency in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota for KIDS COUNT, a 30-year-old project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and a premier national source of data on children and families. MBPC will be the first grantee in the country to assume the responsibilities for KIDS COUNT in a three-state regional area.

“The Montana Budget & Policy Center is honored to be selected by The Annie E. Casey Foundation to serve as the grantee for the KIDS COUNT project,” said Tara Jensen, Co-Director of Public Affairs at MPBC. “We look forward to building on the KIDS COUNT work that was done by pervious grantees over the years. This grant provides us with an opportunity establish authentic relationships and deepen our partnerships with those advocating for data-driven solutions that strengthen children and families in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.”

The Montana Budget & Policy Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization providing in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues. MBPC’s core focus is publishing credible, timely, and easy-to-understand reports on the fiscal policies that most impact Montanans living on low and moderate incomes. MBPC identifies and advocates for public policies that work for all communities, including Indian Country. More information about MBPC can be found at

“The Montana Budget & Policy Center is a respected, independent source for state policy information. I am thrilled they will be assuming the responsibilities of the KIDS COUNT grant and expand its work for the well-being of children and families across the state,” said Susan Hay Patrick, CEO of United Way of Missoula County.

KIDS COUNT seeks to provide state legislators, public officials, and child advocates with the reliable data, policy recommendations, and tools needed to advance sound policies that benefit children and families and to raise the visibility of children’s issues through a nonpartisan, evidence-based lens. Each year, the Foundation produces a comprehensive report — the KIDS COUNT Data Book — that assesses child well-being in the United States. The indicators featured in the Data Book are also available in the Data Center. KIDS COUNT has grantees in all 50 states and three territories.

“We ask our 50 states and three territorial KIDS COUNT partners to use reliable data, coupled with stories and effective communications, to advance a policy advocacy agenda that will contribute to the well-being of children and families in their jurisdiction,” said Dennis J. Campa, Associate Director, State Policy Reform and Advocacy at The Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Based on Montana Budget & Policy Center’s stellar data analysis, policy advocacy reputation, and community engagement track record, we are pleased to welcome them to the KIDS COUNT network.”

In order to ensure a thoughtful transition, MBPC is conducting a survey to assess what data, issues, and policies matter to partners, what research is needed, and how MBPC can help improve the lives of children in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The survey can be found here.

MBPC Provides Comments on Montana Section 1115 Demonstration Amendment and Extension Application

On October 8, the Montana Budget & Policy Center submitted formal comments to the federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in relation to the state’s proposed Medicaid expansion extension and amendment. You can read MBPC’s full comments here.

CMS is required to take public comment for 30 days on the state’s proposal to continue Medicaid expansion with proposed changes that deviates from traditional Medicaid program. Specifically, Montana is asking for permission to implement work/community engagement requirements and increased premiums on some enrollees. As detailed in the public comment, MBPC supports continuing Medicaid expansion in Montana, but has raised concerns about the likely loss of coverage that would occur under the proposed work requirements and increase premiums. For more information on the waiver process view MBPC’s FAQ sheet.

MBPC Appointed to Legislative Subcommittee to Study State and Local Tax Policy

On June 27, 2019, the Montana Legislature’s Revenue Interim Committee appointed MBPC’s senior fiscal policy analyst, Rose Bender, to serve on the subcommittee charged with looking at Montana’s state and local tax structure.

“I am honored to be appointed to the subcommittee to provide Montana Budget & Policy Center’s important perspective,” said Bender. “I look forward to working with the subcommittee and legislative members to consider ways we can adjust our tax system to ensure a sustainable source of adequate revenue while also ensuring that families with lower and middle incomes aren’t disproportionately impacted.”

The Legislature created the subcommittee in HJ 35 to make recommendations on any revisions to the state tax structure to: establish a tax structure responsive to the current economy; stabilize revenue and reduce volatility; and ensure the tax structure is fair and equitable. The tax study subcommittee will meet throughout the interim prior to the 2021 Legislative Session to review Montana’s tax structure and consider any recommendations. MBPC recently released a report providing the Revenue Interim Committee with suggested guidelines for the upcoming study.


MBPC Statement in Response to Final Farm Bill Agreement

The Farm Bill Conference Report, released on Monday December 11, protects the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the critical investment that ensures nearly 40 million people who struggle against hunger in this country can afford to put food on their tables. SNAP, a key part of the farm bill, has long been our nation’s most powerful and effective anti-hunger program. On December 12, the Senate passed the bill by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 87-13. The House followed the next day, passing the final agreement with a vote of 369-47. Senators Daines and Tester and Representative Gianforte all supported the final bill. This final farm bill is expected to be signed into law in the coming days.

Following the passage of the final farm bill agreement, the Montana Budget and Policy Center released the following statement:

“This agreement protects and strengthens SNAP, our country’s most effective anti-hunger program. The agreement ensures that SNAP will continue to help feed children and their parents, seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and working people with low pay or inconsistent hours. SNAP will continue to help nearly 60,000 Montana households make ends meet and afford groceries each month.

We commend House and Senate negotiators for working together to continue the bipartisan tradition of protecting food assistance for Montanans and all Americans. We applaud Senators Daines and Tester, as well as Representative Gianforte, for their support of a final farm bill that rejects harmful amendments that would take away help from people who are struggling.”

What is in the final farm bill agreement?

  • The new farm bill conference agreement reauthorizes SNAP and provides for modest improvements to program integrity and administration, such as protecting participant privacy and ensuring that states’ procedures don’t put undue burden on families causing them to lose access to food benefits.
  • The agreement would also encourage and prioritize approaches to job training and other employment-related activities that are proven to be successful by the findings from evidence-based employment and training pilot projects that the 2014 farm bill established.
  • The conference 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.
  • The conference agreement’s SNAP provisions are not entirely without flaws. The agreement includes a provision that would end bonuses to states that demonstrate significant improvements in program operations, and it doesn’t include changes that would strengthen access for those who can face difficulties participating, such as seniors and people with disabilities.