As Montanans prepare to enter what is sure to be a tough winter, the need for economic relief has never been clearer. In recent weeks, Montana’s COVID-19 case numbers have surged to new records. The economic recovery that began in May has tapered off, and many households in Montana are feeling the compounding strain of balancing family, work, and safety.
With Thanksgiving and the holidays just around the corner, 31,000 adults in Montana reported that their children did not have enough food to eat. One in ten renters in the state are not caught up on rent, and one in four Montanans are having difficulty keeping up with typical household expenses.
Even though unemployment is no longer the news story it was in March, unemployment remains higher than it was before the start of the pandemic. In the week ending on October 31, 20,901 Montanans filed unemployment insurance claims. Of those, 3,387 were filing claims for the first time.
On November 17, 2020, Gov. Bullock announced an additional $25 million to the Department of Labor and Industry to provide eligible Montanans with $200 a week in unemployment insurance between November 28 and December 19. This additional funding comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the relief package Congress passed in March.
Congress allocated $1.25 billion through the CARES Act, which enabled the state to provide business stabilization grants, emergency housing assistance, funding for public health services, child care provider supplemental payments, and other grants and services. Approximately $1.24 billion has already been allocated.
Without additional federal aid, workers in Montana have been facing the difficult choice between going without a paycheck and working – even if they are feeling sick. Lewis and Clark Public Health Officer, Drenda Niemann, told KULR8 News many of the recent cases in the county were from people attending work while symptomatic or awaiting test results.
Some businesses are also facing worker shortages, with nearly one in ten Montanans needing to quarantine in the month of October. The additional $200 a week in unemployment insurance will temporarily help Montanans make ends meet while workplaces deal with the effects of rising coronavirus cases. But without more aid, the benefit will be short-lived.
The CARES Act and the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) provided initial assistance to Americans during the early stages of the pandemic, but any more relief from Congress has stalled, even as the pandemic has surged to new levels across the country.
Workers in Montana will continue to face difficult choices unless Congress passes additional assistance. The boost in unemployment insurance for Montanans runs out mid-December, and many of the provisions from the FFCRA, including paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave, expire at the end of the year.
With over 8,000 cases of COVID-19 in the last week, Montana’s per capita case numbers are among the worst in the nation. Congress must act quickly to support workers, families, and struggling Montanans before the situation becomes even more dire.