New Montana KIDS COUNT Logo

A is for Abacus.

In January, the Montana Budget & Policy Center became the KIDS COUNT grantee for Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. During the past eight months, we have been busy updating data on the KIDS COUNT Data Center, building partnerships in each state, forming advisory committees, and gaining an understanding for the policies that would most benefit the children in each state.

In the past eight months we’ve updated over 100 data points from high school graduation rates and child food insecurity, to uninsured children and WIC participants. This data is critical for nonprofits in their grant writing and for stakeholders and policymakers to better understand the needs of children. Go check it out.

We have also been hard at work developing a new brand and logo to update our look.

We are so excited that today we finally get to show off our new, fresh logo to accompany the reliable data that Montana KIDS COUNT is known for.

Doesn’t it look great?

Next we will rebuild the websites in each state and plan to launch those in December. While the look and feel of KIDS COUNT materials may look different, the trusted data and commitment to seeing children and families thrive remains the same. We are looking forward to these next steps as we build upon and expand the great work of KIDS COUNT.

Want to stay up to date? Follow us on Twitter @MTKidsCount and Facebook to get the latest information and data updates. Want to connect with KIDS COUNT further? Contact Montana KIDS COUNT Coordinator, Xanna Burg, at

It is an exciting time for Montana KIDS COUNT and we are grateful to have you with us.

Registration for 2020 State-Tribal Symposium: Advancing Investments in Indian Country

MBPC is excited to announce that registration is now open for the 2020 State-Tribal Symposium: Advancing Investments in Indian Country.

This free symposium provides tribal leaders and advocates with information on how the state budget process works and how people can get involved to secure important investments in Indian Country. Register today.

Over the past few legislative sessions, the state has invested state funds into programs like indigenous language preservation, tribal colleges, Indian Country Economic Development, suicide prevention, and Medicaid expansion. Hear from experts on some of the state-funded programs that impact Indian Country. Get the details on what they are, why they’re important, and where they stand going into the legislative session. Get an overview of how a bill becomes law, how to track legislative activity online, and learn how to get involved in the process. Review examples of legislative wins and learn how they apply to future opportunities.

Who should attend: state and tribal elected officials, program directors, tribal-led advocacy groups, community organizers, educators and tribal college students, and others from Indian Country who are interested in learning more about becoming active in the state budget and legislative process.

Monday, September 14, 2020 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
The State Budget and Indian Country
Tuesday, September 15, 2020 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Legislative Session 101 – Crash Course
Wednesday, September 16, 2020 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Panel: Elevating American Indian Voices at the Capitol: Current Investments and Future Opportunities
Thursday, September 17, 2020 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Testimony, Advocacy, and Community Engagement
Friday, September 18, 2020 12:00 PM – 1:00 PM
Keynote, Tara Houska

New Data Shows Montana Children and Families are Still Struggling During COVID

There are almost 229,000 children under 18 that call Montana home. Data from a new Census Bureau survey shows that Montana families with children are struggling to afford rent and food, are experiencing heightened mental health symptoms, and may be lacking technology access needed for remote education.

The data are from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey and are summarized over three four-week periods: April 23-May 26, May 28-June 23, and June 25-July 21.

Montana families are struggling to afford rent

One in four Montana households with children were behind on paying rent between June 25 and July 21. During this same time frame, households with children were about 2.5 times more likely to be behind on rent than households without children. Over the last three months that data has been collected, the percent of families behind on rent has increased, from 16.1 percent between April 23 and May 26 compared to 25.9 percent between June 25 and July 21. This data shows that Montana families have a continued need for housing relief measures that help them pay rent and avoid eviction.

Many Montana families cannot afford enough food

About 11 percent of Montana families with children report that they often or sometimes did not have enough to eat between June 25th and July 21st. This translates to 24,000 Montana children. The majority (86 percent) of families that did not have enough to eat said that they couldn’t afford to buy more food. Montana has taken steps to help families who cannot afford enough food by increasing SNAP benefits for some households, extending SNAP eligibility, and offering replacement benefits for families receiving free and reduced-price lunches. However, this data shows that many Montana families still cannot afford enough to eat and need continued relief measures to put enough food on the table. A 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits for all households would help Montana families that cannot afford enough food.

Montana families are coping with anxious feelings

A third (33.2 percent) of Montana families with children said they experienced feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge more than half of the time. The number of families coping with these negative emotions has been high since the start of the pandemic, with 29.2 percent reporting anxious symptoms between April 23 and May 26.

Prior to the pandemic, 8.2 percent of all adults in the U.S. had anxiety symptoms, much lower than the estimate from June 25-July 21 that 32.8 percent of all adults in the U.S. are now experiencing anxiety symptoms more than half the time. A pre-pandemic comparison is not available for Montana or families with children. The high proportion of families experiencing anxious feelings means that children may be exposed to high-stress environments at home, which could have long-term impacts on their development. Increasing mental health services in schools may help children cope during this time of heightened stress.

Not all Montana children have access to technology for education at home

Between June 25th and July 21st, 7.0 percent of Montana families with children under 18 rarely or never had access to a computer for educational purposes. During this same time frame, 6.5 percent of Montana families report they rarely or never had access to the internet for educational purposes. This translates to 11,000 Montana children who rarely or never have the technology tools for remote education. Compared to the U.S., Montana has a higher percentage of children without a computer or without internet for educational purposes. Interruptions in a child’s education due to lack of technology access could have long-term effects on their learning and development. More support may be needed for families with limited access to technology in order to succeed at remote learning.

Interim Subcommittee Advances Four Thoughtful Revenue Proposals

The Revenue Interim Committee and their subcommittee studying Montana’s state and local tax system (HJ 35) met this week, showing some positive momentum. The HJ 35 tax study subcommittee voted to pass four bills onto the Revenue Interim Committee that would strengthen local governments’ ability to raise revenue and improve the fairness of our tax system.

The first bill passed out of the committee, HJ 35-01, would allow local governments to keep up with inflation when making their budgets. In current law, local governments can only increase their budgets by one-half of the average inflation rate for the prior three years. This bill would enable local governments to increase their budgets by the full rate of inflation, so that we can support the level of infrastructure and public services our growing communities need.

The second bill passed out of committee, HJ 35-02, proposes a tax credit for families whose property taxes exceed an unsustainable percentage of their income. Currently, property taxes are completely disconnected from household income, and households living on lower and middle incomes pay a larger portion of their income in property taxes than the wealthy. This tax credit is most generous for homeowners living at the lowest income levels and would improve the fairness of Montana’s tax system.

The third bill, HJ 35-03, would increase the corporate minimum tax. Our current $50 corporate minimum tax has not been increased since it was passed in 1969. This proposed bill increases the corporate minimum tax to $200— almost half of what it would be if it had been increased with inflation— and would bring much-needed revenue to Montana at a small cost to some C-corporations.

The final bill the committee passed was HJ 35-04. This bill revises the calculation of the capital gains tax credit so that the credit amount is based on the lesser of the taxpayer’s net capital gains or taxable income. This bill would correct a drafting error which currently allows a taxpayer to take the capital gains tax credit on 2% of their capital gains, regardless of their taxable income. For example, currently, if a taxpayer has $1 million in taxable income and $2 million in capital gains, the taxpayer can take the capital gains tax credit against the entire $2 million in capital gains, which is twice their taxable income. This bill would limit the capital gains tax credit to be taken against, at most, taxable income.

The 2021 legislative session is only six months away. With such positive bills making progress, we have hope that this will be a time for thoughtful decisions and proactive planning about our state’s need for new and fair sources of revenue as we rebuild to a better Montana.

It is not too late for thousands of Montanans to receive their Economic Impact Payments

This spring, millions of Americans automatically received Economic Impact Payments (EIP) to help relieve the hardships caused by the coronavirus public health emergency. Taxpayers who had filed taxes in 2018 or 2019 received their payments automatically either through direct deposit or a check in the mail. An estimated 25,000 Montanans, however, live in households who are not required to file taxes due to their low incomes. These individuals are those at most at risk of not receiving their payments. To receive their share, non-filers must fill out this form on the IRS website by October 15.

The EIP payments are significant – $1,200 per eligible adult, and $500 for each eligible child. This means a two parent, two child household that qualify for $3,400. With high unemployment and skyrocketing food insecurity, these relief payments are an important tool in helping Montanans weather this crisis.

Non-filers are mostly households with extremely low incomes – individuals with incomes less than $12,400, heads of households with incomes less than $18,650, and married couples with incomes less than $24,800 – are not required to file federal taxes. Ensuring that households with very low incomes receive payments is a vital as coronavirus case numbers begin to climb again in Montana.

Let’s put the impact of these funds in perspective. Average fair market rent for a four-bedroom house in Montana is $1,453. It takes a family working 129 hours a week a minimum wage to afford it. So the $3,400 in EIP would be enough to cover rent, groceries, gas, electricity, water, and the unexpected bill or expense. For families struggling to get by, this would be a welcome lifeline.

Not only do the payments help reduce hardship for Montana households, they can also give the state and local economies a much-needed boost. In Montana, the amount of potential total payments to households who did not receive automatic payments totals $25 million. Stimulus payments to non-filing households are one of the most important means of economic recovery. Direct payments to very low-income people have been shown to be one of the most effective ways to stimulate the economy during a recession.

Economic Impact Payments were established through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. These payments, coupled with other provisions in the CARES Act, kept 12 to 16 million people nationwide out of poverty during the initial months of the pandemic.

United States citizens, permanent residents, and qualifying resident aliens who have a valid Social Security number and have not been claimed as a dependent of another taxpayer are eligible to receive payments. Several groups are excluded from payments, including immigrant families if one spouse lacks a Social Security number (and the couple filed taxes jointly), 17-year-olds, college students whom their parents can claim as dependents, and adult dependents. Payments also begin to phase out at a certain income level ($150,000 for married couples), however, non-filers generally live on low incomes and are eligible for the full amount.

Local non-profits, health service providers, faith-based organizations, and government agencies can help ensure that all Montanans receive their payments by sharing the non-filer payment tool with all those who may potentially need it. For those with limited internet access or who have difficulty navigating the form, these service providers and community organizations are an essential part of making sure all Montanans receive their payments.

Individuals have several ways they may receive their relief payments, including a paper check or direct deposit into a bank account. For those who are unbanked, they may receive payments via a financial payment app (Venmo, PayPal, or CashApp), or a prepaid debit card.

Those who do not file a form to by October 15th may still file a 2020 tax return to receive the payment in 2021.

USDA Approves Program to Feed Montana Kids during COVID-19

Montana children will have access to a supplemental nutrition program that will help address food insecurity caused by the sudden closure of schools in March. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced late June that Montana will be allowed to operate Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program (P-EBT).  The program is expected to be implemented in July and August.

P-EBT was created by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) in order to help address food insecurity caused by the closure of schools due to the coronavirus public health emergency. P-EBT provides assistance to families of children eligible for free or reduced-price meals if the children’s school closed for five or more days during the pandemic. Benefits will be the equivalent of the cost of school meals – $5.70 per child per day. Montana families will receive an estimated $330 benefits per child.

School meals are an essential part of addressing childhood food insecurity. Four in ten Montana children were eligible for free and reduced-price lunches during the 2019-2020 school year. Without schools in session, thousands of Montana families struggled to put enough food on the table. Although non-congregate school meal sites helped improve access to meals, many families were not able to make several trips a day to these sites.

Approximately 67,000 children in Montana are eligible for P-EBT.

Families who already receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will automatically be enrolled in P-EBT. Families who do not receive SNAP will need to enroll in the program so that they may receive their benefits. The Department of Public Health and Human Services and the Office of Public Instruction will work to identify and contact these families so they may receive their benefits.

P-EBT can help address rising food insecurity in Montana. In late June, four in ten Montana households with children reported not having enough to eat, or did not have enough of the kinds of food they wanted to eat, in the last week. School closures have not been the only challenge families have faced in putting food on the table. Unemployment rose to double digits during March, April, and May. Food prices have risen across the United States, due in part to the closure of meat processing plants. Even as the state re-opens, food insecurity will be a significant concern for many Montana families in the coming months.

Montana has enacted other provisions to help address food insecurity caused by the public health emergency, including increased benefits for some households. SNAP benefits act as a “first responder” in times of crisis and is one of the most effective ways to increase economic stability for families and communities.

MBPC will update this blog as we learn more about implementation P-EBT including how families who do not receive SNAP can enroll.

Ten Year Trends in Child Well-Being: More Progress Needed for Montana Children

The Annie E. Casey Foundation released the 31st edition of the KIDS COUNT Data Book on June 22, the first edition since Montana Budget & Policy Center began leading the KIDS COUNT effort in Montana. The KIDS COUNT Data Book summarizes 16 key indicators of child well-being for all 50 states across four areas: economic well-being, education, health, and family/community. Because of the availabity of data, the information presented in the KIDS COUNT Data Book lag by at least a year, so it does not capture the increased challenges that Montana children and families, particularly those of color, have faced this year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, this data book provides insight into how child well-being has changed in the last decade, and where progress is needed for Montana children to thrive.

Almost 230,000 children live, learn, and play in Montana. In many ways, child well-being has improved in the last decade – more teens graduate high school and there are fewer teen pregnancies. It is important to pause and reflect on the progress made so far because change happens slowly. It often takes years of sustained effort to change policies and systems. However, many aspects of child well-being remain the same or have gotten worse in the last decade, showing the need for renewed dedication so all children have the opportunity to thrive into adulthood.

Of the four content areas, Montana ranks lowest in economic well-being, indicating that families still struggle financially. The rate of children in poverty has decreased in the last decade, down from 20% in 2010, however one in six children still live in poverty in Montana. Children who live in poverty may not have adequate housing, food, or other essential needs. Children in poverty are also at higher risk for experiencing behavioral, social, and emotional health challenges. The federal poverty level indicates that a family of three is considered living in poverty if they make less than $21,000 per year, but we know that is hardly enough to meet basic needs. Housing represents one of the largest expenses for families, and families who spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing are also at risk to not have enough for other needs like food and clothing. In Montana, one in four (about 54,000) Montana children live in a family with high housing costs. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the added challenges of fewer jobs and more economic instability, children living in poverty and with high housing costs are even more vulnerable to not have their basic needs met.

In the health domain, after years of improving Montana’s health insurance coverage and reaching an all-time low of only five percent of uninsured children, more children are uninsured for the second year in a row. This leaves 15,000 children in Montana without coverage. Children without insurance are at risk to not receive preventative well child visits or recommended immunizations. In 2018, over half of all children in Montana were enrolled in Healthy Montana Kids (HMK), the state’s Medicaid and children’s health insurance program (CHIP). With declining coverage in the state, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services should find ways to expand outreach and support for families who may be eligible for HMK coverage.

Our communities are strongest when all children have the opportunities they need to thrive. However, many disparities still exist for children of color in Montana. The reality for these children today has been shaped by colonialism, generations of racism, and added barriers to economic and social resources. These structural inequities make it harder for children of color to succeed. Children of color are more likely to live in poverty, live in families that spend more on housing, and go without health insurance. In Montana, about 40 percent of American Indian children live in poverty and 17 percent do not have health insurance. The Indian Health Service (IHS) is a federal program that provides health services for American Indian families. The obligation of the federal government to provide health care to American Indians stems from what is known as its trust responsibility to tribes. To learn more about the federal-tribal trust relationship, see MBPC’s report, “Medicaid Expansion in Indian Country: Effective Strategies for Outreach and Enrollment.” Unfortunately, IHS services are severely limited by a lack of federal funding. IHS receives about $4,000 per person enrolled, which is only half the amount ($8,000) per person on Medicaid. Limited funding means that not every health need of American Indians can be taken care of at an IHS facility, leaving children and families without comprehensive health care coverage through IHS alone. For this reason, families that rely on IHS alone for health coverage are considered uninsured. To address the inequities in health insurance coverage, Montana should improve outreach of the HMK public insurance program to American Indian children who are eligible but not currently enrolled. Children on HMK have health coverage at any facility that participates in the Medicaid program, including IHS facilities. Additionally, fully funding IHS will help ensure more families receive adequate health services, even if not directly improving health insurance coverage. Addressing the structural barriers that have led to present-day disparities is a critical step to seeing all children thrive in Montana.

At Montana KIDS COUNT, we aim to provide timely and reliable data to better understand not only the strengths of child well-being across the state but also identify policy solutions where Montana can make meaningful change for kids. The KIDS COUNT Data Book is just a small glimpse into the lives of children in Montana. More data on child well-being in your Montana community can be found on the KIDS COUNT Data Center.

Food Prices and Hunger are on the Rise in Montana

Food insecurity is skyrocketing in Montana, caused by a of high rates of unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic and made worse by rising food prices.

The cost of preparing food at home in May 2020 was nearly 5 percent higher than in May 2019, burdening households who had been living on limited incomes and those suddenly facing unemployment. With meat-processing plants shutting down across the country, the price of meat has especially risen sharply in the United States. Meats, poultry, fish, and eggs are 10 percent more expensive than they were a year earlier.

This sharp rise in food prices places even greater pressure on households who are struggling with a sudden drop in income, creating rising rates of food insufficiency. The most recent estimates from mid-May show that 1 in 3 households in Montana did not have enough to eat, or did not have enough of the kinds of food they wanted to eat, in the last week. With people experiencing job and income loss, fewer trips to grocery stores, product shortages, and increasing prices, many households have not been able to afford or obtain what they normally would eat.

Households with children face significant barriers to food security and are faring even worse – 2 out of every 5 households experienced food insufficiency the last week of May. With children out of school across the country, many have not had access to regular school breakfasts and lunches. School meal programs have been handing out food to-go, but not all families have been able to travel to meal distribution sites multiple times a day.

Even as Montana reopens, food insecurity will likely worsen over the coming year. Feeding America projects childhood food insecurity in Montana will be as high as 26 percent in 2020, up from 16 percent in 2018. Some counties will see even higher rates of childhood food insecurity. Many Montanans, especially those living in rural areas, already have limited access to economic opportunity. Childhood food insecurity could be as high as 41 percent in Mineral County. Even the county with the lowest projected rate (McCone County) will likely see as many as 1 in 5 children experiencing food insecurity in the coming year.

Counties with high percentages of American Indians are also projected to have high rates of food insecurity. Colonialism dismantled tribal food systems and suppressed economic opportunities, creating conditions where crises such as the COVID-19 public health emergency further exacerbate preexisting disparities. Counties with high percentages of American Indian populations had high child food insecurity rates prior to COVID-19 and remain some of the highest rates in the state in 2020. Big Horn County and Glacier County are projected to see childhood food insecurity rates as high as 37 to 39 percent, respectively.

Changes to social safety nets have yet to sufficiently address the impact of rising food prices on food insecurity. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act allowed states to issue emergency SNAP allotments, which allowed all households to receive the maximum SNAP benefit. Unfortunately, 40 percent of SNAP households – those with very little or no income – already received the maximum benefit, and did not receive any increase in SNAP benefits. Without an increase to benefits, people will struggle to feed their families as everyday staples are more expensive.

State and federal policymakers are considering additional measures to address food insecurity. In order to combat rising food prices, Congress should make raising the SNAP maximum allotment by 15 percent a top priority. A 15 percent increase would amount to an additional $25 per person per month, or $100 for a family of four.

Montana can also directly address childhood food insecurity caused by the early closures of schools. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act created Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT), which gives states the option to provide electronic benefits to children who would normally be receiving free- and reduced-price breakfasts and lunches, equivalent to the amount of the federal reimbursement rate for these meals. The benefits are retroactive, and families in Montana could receive (depending on the length of their school closure) approximately $300 per child. As of June 10th, 42 states including Washington, D.C., have been approved for P-EBT. Montana has until June 30th to be approved for P-EBT.

Our policymakers must act quickly to address the food insecurity caused by rising food prices and widespread unemployment. Failure to act quickly will further delay economic recovery, and put the health and well-being of thousands of Montanans at risk.

MPBC Announces New Project – Big Sky Brighter Future

Today the Montana Budget & Policy Center announced its new project – Big Sky Brighter Future – a bold agenda providing policymakers with a clear course to prioritize Montana’s families and children as we rebuild our state.

Montana is a place we love to call home. Natural beauty and commitment to community make Montana an extraordinary place to live for many. However, many Montanans face barriers to building the best futures for themselves and their families, and the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare discrimination in the very programs and systems meant to support workers and families.

To move Montana forward and truly make it a state where we can all live, work, and enjoy all that Big Sky Country has to offer, we must be bold. We need to rebuild our systems and eliminate structural barriers so that we all have what we need. Not just during times of crisis, but every day.

Big Sky Brighter Future includes 35 forward-thinking policies to point Montana toward a brighter future. We developed this plan with an eye toward equity for Montanans who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color. MBPC met with nonprofit organizations, advocates, and experts to develop a plan that includes policies to strengthen families, boost workers, educate for our future, and build resilient communities. Policies, such as investments in early childhood education, support for tribal health services, and paid sick days, are needed now more than ever. You can read the full plan here.

Big Sky Brighter Future also provides a down payment to pay for these policies with ten common-sense proposals that create a tax code that will work for everyone and bring in $241 million in new revenue.

Over the next few months and leading to the 2021 legislative session, we will work with partners, advocates, and families to make sure candidates running for office hear what our state needs. With your help, we can build the support to make this plan a reality.

We hope you will join us by reading our plan on our website at and following us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can also sign up to learn more, start conversations in your community, and submit letters to the editor.

Big Sky Brighter Future is charting a clear course with concrete policy solutions to rebuild our state.

There’s a better Montana on the horizon, and we know how to get there.

Tribal Sovereignty During COVID-19

Tribal nations are showcasing leadership during COVID-19 by prioritizing the safety and health of vulnerable populations, tribal citizens, and non-citizens. To fight the spread of COVID-19, many tribal nations have exercised their sovereign right to regulate the movement of peoples on their lands. This includes opening travel check points and shelter-in-place orders.

Despite Montana’s decisions to enter phase two of reopening, some tribal nations have extended stay-at-home orders and continued to implement travel checkpoints to protect their citizens and non-citizen travelers. Elder tribal citizens are an especially vulnerable group, and tribal nations have taken measures to safeguard them.

The Blackfeet Tribe implemented an ordinance continuing their shelter-in-place order, closing roads within the reservation to essential use, and closing entrances to Glacier National Park located within the reservation. Blackfeet’s Incident Commander, Robert DesRosier, explained the tribal nation is not aligning with the Governor’s reopening timeline because, “we just have a vulnerable population, our elders… They’re the most sacred group of people that we honor and respect.” Elders hold important roles within tribal nations, communities, and families. Not only are elders beloved, they pass irreplaceable indigenous knowledge forms and languages on to future generations.

The Crow Tribe opened a series of checkpoints in late March to limit the spread of COVID-19. More recently, the Crow Tribe extended its stay-at-home order to June 15th, and travelers have also been encouraged to not travel to the reservation even for recreational activities. Governor Bullock has respected the sovereignty of tribal nations to put in place these more restrictive measures while the rest of the state prepares for phase two of reopening. 

In contrast, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has attempted to order the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe to remove the travel checkpoints each tribal nation operates on their own lands. Chairman Harold Frazier of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe responded with a letter citing the tribal nation’s sovereign authority to determine who travels through their lands, and the responsibility of the tribal nation to protect its citizens as well as non-citizens.

In a recent survey, the top three categories of concern for tribal governments during COVID-19 were structural barriers to finance, access to food and supplies, and the well-being of elders and families. Many tribal nations do not have adequate economic resources to respond to COVID-19, and are experiencing a disproportionate impact to their revenues.

As we have written about before, tribal governments operate many of the same public services as other levels of government, but they must do so without the usual tax revenue other levels of government rely on, such as property tax. State and local governments have successfully challenged in court tribal governments’ exclusive right to levy taxes within their reservation and stifled reservation economic growth.

As a result, many tribes must rely on their natural resources and tribally owned business enterprises as their only source of revenue outside federal dollars. However, COVID-19 has forced many of these tribal enterprises, such as non-essential businesses and casinos, to close.

Tribal nations and their citizens also face structural barriers to healthcare and emergency medical resources, and it has become a starker reality in the context of COVID-19. Despite the United States government’s legal obligation, or federal trust responsibility, to provide health care to tribal nations and their citizens, the chronic underfunding of the Indian Health Service (IHS) existed long before the pandemic.

In addition to structural barriers to health care, settler-colonialism’s attempt to erase indigenous food systems, economies, and lands negatively impacted the health of American Indians. These health disparities, such as the fact American Indians are three times as likely to have diabetes than whites, could affect susceptibilities to COVID-19. However, it is important to emphasize that these susceptibilities do not have to do with a lack of immunity. These disparities are direct results of historic and ongoing policies, such as the Indian Removal Act, pursued by the federal government, states, and settlers.

On March 27th, the federal government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES Act) which would provide $8 billion to tribal nations to buffer the economic impact of coronavirus. However, these funds were delayed for weeks and some tribal nations are still waiting. In Montana, all eight federally-recognized tribal nations are expected to receive CARES Act funds.

The Crow Tribe, for instance, received CARES Act funds on May 13th to purchase personal protective equipment, testing kits, and other tribal government response efforts. The recently federally-recognized Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians does not have an IHS facility and will not receive funds to support medical staff. Little Shell will receive funds for housing, but Chairman Gray worries this may not be enough to assist the tribal nation’s ability to fight the virus. Governor Bullock has made efforts towards making testing more accessible to tribal nations during the pandemic, and recently sent kits to the Fort Belknap, Blackfeet, and Crow reservations.

Despite the numerous barriers they face, tribal nations continue to consider public health and safety for all, expanding beyond their own citizens. Tribal nations have prioritized vulnerable populations, such as elders, as integral to the fabric of the tribal nation, community, and families.