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.

Children are going hungry with school closures. Montana can help.

Montana can help thousands of low-income students get enough to eat during school closures, but it must act swiftly.  

A new program established through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Coronavirus Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT), allows states to provide assistance to families with children who would otherwise be receiving free or reduced-price school breakfasts and lunches if schools were in session. With thousands of parents having lost their jobs or working reduced hours and children across the state out of school, P-EBT can help ensure kids are receiving the nutrition they need. 

In Montana, 65,000 children receive free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Four out of every ten students in Montana public schools receive these meals, and many are at an increased risk of hunger while schools are out of session.  

School districts across the state have been providing pick-up meals, an important stop-gap service for those in need, but they are not enough. In February, the NSLP provided over 2 million free and reduced price meals to Montana students. In March, despite school still being in session for the first two weeks of the monthschool meal programs provided half a million fewer meals. Many families are unable to make outings multiple times a day for meals, and P-EBT can help make up the difference.  

P-EBT benefits can help increase nutrition for children at risk of going hungry. The benefits amount to $114 a month per child. If schools in Montana remain out for the rest of the year, families may receive over $300 in assistance per child.  

Enacting P-EBT, however, is not without its challenges. For those families with children who receive free and reducedprice lunches and are also enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the state can automatically issue benefits through SNAP for these families.  

However, there are many who are not already enrolled in SNAP. To reach these children,  Montana must find thembut contact information on the NSLP may not be immediately available. The state may need to use data from school districts, Healthy Montana Kids, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), foster care, and other programs to ensure no one slips through the cracks. Outlining a plan to identifstudents eligible for assistance is a necessary step to get state approval for P-EBT.  

While many school districts have voted to close for the rest of the school year, some uncertainty about the weeks ahead remain. Nevertheless, obtaining P-EBT benefits for families should be a priority for Montana. P-EBT benefits can be issued retroactively, helping to ease the unexpected financial difficulty many families have endured over the past month and a half. 

So far, Montana has taken several measures to help ease the financial burden of the pandemic The state has taken action to ensure households will not be kicked off of SNAP in this critical time and has increased the benefit amount for many households. Now, the state should take another step and make kids a priority as well. 

Thirty-one states have been approved for P-EBT thus far. Montana has the opportunity to ease the pressure on families and reduce childhood hunger. The state should create a plan to issue P-EBT benefits to eligible households as soon as possible. 

COVID Lays Bare Inequities for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the inequities built into the very systems that are meant to serve families facing financial insecurity. As a result, BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) are disproportionately feeling the devastating impacts of this pandemic and resulting economic recession.

Essential or frontline workers, such as those working in grocery and food services, child care, and health services, are putting their lives on the line so that we can collectively stay safe and continue to enjoy access goods and services during these times. Existing policies that have limited economic mobility, such as unequal access to educational and job opportunities, result in more women and black, indigenous, and people of color employed in frontline work. Frontline workers have always been and continue to be critical to our communities – we simply see it more clearly now. And today they face greater risks of exposure to COVID-19, while they help others stay in their homes and stay safe.

To make things worse, BIPOC communities also have less access to health care services, and subsequently, experience higher rates of underlying health issues that can pose greater risks of illness from coronavirus. As just one example, African Americans comprise less than one third of the population in Louisiana, but represent nearly three-quarters of those dying from COVID-19 in the state. Inadequate investments in the core building blocks that ensure economic stability, such as safe and stable housing, public transportation, and quality education, have a lasting impact on the health and wellbeing of communities. The systematic underinvestment in low-income communities have resulted in families less likely to receive preventative health services and lower-quality care overall.

Access to health services for American Indians is inextricably linked to the federal government’s unique trust obligations and its failures to meet those obligations. Through over 400 treaties negotiated between the U.S. government and tribal nations, tribes ceded control of millions of acres of their homelands in the U.S., in exchange for compensation, which often included medical services. And yet, severe and chronic underfunding of Indian Health Service and tribal health departments has resulted in limited medical services for indigenous people. Thirty-five percent of American Indians in Montana lack access to a primary health care provider, compared to 26 percent of whites. This lack of access to health services coupled with generations of historical trauma has resulted in higher rates of asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. Many tribal nations in the U.S. are seeing greater spread of COVID with fewer resources to address it.

Historic racism and present-day discrimination have also resulted in policies that don’t reach BIPOC communities in a meaningful way. Workers making lower wages are less likely to have access to paid sick days or paid family leave or employer-provided health care. Traditional small business lending programs are often geared toward white-owned businesses with access to collateral and needed resources. The pervasive legacy of racist policies, such as redlining, and current day discriminations through housing, education, and employment have prevented many BIPOC families from moving up the income scale, but even more starkly, from building wealth. Today, the average wealth held by a white individual who has dropped out of high school exceeds that of a Black or Latino college graduate. Black, indigenous, and families of color living on low incomes are more likely to lack even a few hundred dollars in savings to call upon in times of crisis.

As we rebuild our economy, this is an opportunity to create structures to no longer harm, but instead support, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. BIPOC communities best know how to begin to right these injustices and must be represented as we collectively work to fix system deficiencies that have been made more apparent during this pandemic. We must look at policies that will address the historical injustices and ensure that all communities have the freedom to thrive.

Montana’s Frontline Workers Are Mostly Women and People of Color

In Montana and across the world, the coronavirus pandemic is keeping many of us safely in our homes. Frontline workers are making this protection possible, providing deliveries, healthcare, child care, social services, and stocking stores with food and necessities. Frontline workers have always played a critical role in our communities, but as the streets are quieted from the typical hustle and bustle, we can see more clearly who is making sure that families can buy food, children are taken care of, and seniors and people with disabilities continue to receive daily care. As a result of historical oppression, like policies that have kept women and people of color out of university systems, and current day discrimination, frontline workers are often disproportionately women and people of color.

In Montana, over 100,000 workers are frontline workers, which is about the population of Billings, Montana. They include grocery store clerks, nurses, cleaners, warehouse workers, child care workers, home health aides, and bus drivers, among others. They were essential before the pandemic hit, but today there is a bright light on their importance. However, these workers are often overworked, underpaid, under protected, and under appreciated. Due in part to historical racial and gender discrimination, frontline workers in Montana are more likely to be women, American Indian, or over the age of 50. Women account for 47 percent of all workers, however they make up 65 percent of frontline workers. Many frontline workers also have family care obligations, as over a third, in Montana and nationwide, have minor children at home.

Many frontline workers support themselves and their families on very low incomes. Montana should prioritize the needs of frontline workers during this moment of crisis (and moving forward), including adequate compensation, expanding as access to health care, child care assistance, and paid sick and family leave. Strengthening economic security for frontline workers will recognize this critical role in our economy and leave all of us better equipped to face downturns in the future.

The Power to Tax in Indian Country

Even though the novel coronavirus pandemic has pushed back Tax Day this year from April 15 to July 15, MBPC wanted to honor April 15, the day we all recognize as Tax Day under normal circumstances, by discussing taxation authority in Indian Country.

Every government relies on tax revenues to fund the essential programs, services, and functions that benefit us all. The power to tax is an inherent right of self-government and is one of many rights retained by tribal nations. However, while tribal governments once held exclusive taxation authority on their reservations, including over non-Indians, state and local governments have repeatedly challenged this authority, making this one of the most litigated issues between tribal, state, and local governments.

Tribal governments are fully functioning governments that provide a range of services similar to those of federal, state, and local governments. They manage tribal lands and resources; provide health care; maintain tribal roads, bridges, and other infrastructure; provide housing; conduct elections; ensure public safety; and more. Many of these services benefit all reservation residents, including non-Indians.

Like other governments, tribal governments have elected officials and employ a sizeable workforce to provide essential functions and services. In fact, tribal governments are oftentimes the largest employers in their geographic areas, and like any government, tribal governments require revenue to carry out their duties and meet their obligations to their citizens.

While tribal governments operate many of the same public services as other levels of government, they must do so without the usual tax revenue on which other levels of government rely. In part, this is because state and local governments have successfully challenged in court tribal governments’ once-exclusive right to levy taxes within their reservation boundaries to the point that tribal taxation authority is greatly reduced today.

Now, many tribal nations must rely on their natural resources and tribally owned business enterprises as their only source of revenue outside federal dollars. Even in those cases, states have fought for the ability to co-tax certain economic activities and natural resource development involving non-Indians in Indian Country, extracting wealth from tribal communities and creating a system where the threat of dual taxation depresses reservation economic growth.

Dual taxation occurs when an activity is subject to both the tribal and non-tribal tax. When state and local taxing jurisdictions insist upon assessing taxes where a tribal tax exists, those non-tribal jurisdictions may significantly increase the costs of doing business, making it more difficult to attract economic development opportunities to Indian Country. For example, in a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the court established that in certain instances, such as cigarette sales, the state can impose its tax on non-Indians making purchases on the reservation. This ruling creates a scenario in which non-Indians are subject to both the state and tribal tax.

While tribal governments in Montana today assess some taxes, including excise taxes on on-reservation sales of alcohol and fuel, revenue derived from those taxes is shared with the state of Montana through revenue sharing agreements. These agreements are important steps in state-tribal tax relations and are intended to reduce the threat of dual taxation. However, the state can and should do more.

Deferring to tribal taxation authority would be a good start. The 2015 Washington Legislature passed House Bill 2000 to authorize the governor to enter into agreements regarding marijuana with tribal governments. The law specifies that each intergovernmental agreement must provide for a tribal marijuana tax that is at least 100 percent of the state tax. The law does not require revenue-sharing. According to the fiscal note, the state marijuana excise tax does not apply to marijuana activities governed by tribal marijuana agreements; state and local sales and use taxes are also excluded.

On this Tax Day, it is important to remember that all governments need tax revenue to provide us with the programs, functions, and services upon which we all rely and to exercise self-governance. That is why the power to tax is essential to tribal sovereignty. Honoring tribal taxation authority increases the ability of tribal governments to generate revenue; operate essential programs, services, and functions; and exercise sovereignty.

Indian Country economic development is good for the state. When reservation economies grow, so do state economies.

For more about taxes in Indian Country, see MBPC’s two-part series on the taxes that tribal citizens and tribal governments pay.

CARES Act: Frequently Asked Questions About Recovery Rebates

This post was originally posted on April 10 but was updated on April 16. 

On March 27, 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) a $2.2 trillion package that includes direct financial assistance to many families, unemployment support, necessary resources to address impending fiscal cliffs faced by state and local governments, and more. Here are answers to some of the questions about who receives rebates and how to get them.

What are the recovery rebates?

The CARES Act authorized direct one-time payments to individuals and families of $1,200 per adult and $500 per dependent child 16 or younger. The payments begin to phase out at annual earnings of $75,000 for single individual, $112,500 for a single head-of-household with one or more dependents, and $150,000 for a married couple. The payment is reduced by $5 for every $100 above those thresholds, fully phasing out at $99,000 for single individual or $198,000 for married couple.

Montanans are expected to receive a total of $1.105 billion in recovery rebates.

What if I haven’t filed my 2019 taxes?

The IRS will use income reported on 2019 tax filings to determine if people are eligible for the rebate. If 2019 taxes have not been filed, the information on 2018 tax returns will be used to determine eligibility.

What if I didn’t file my 2018 taxes? 

Anyone who has not yet filed a 2018 or 2019 tax return should do so as soon as possible, and provide their direct deposit information on the return for the rebate payment. For those receiving social security, the IRS will use that data to generate a rebate without having to file. Those that may be on other assistance, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) but are required to file a tax return, will need to file to receive their rebate.

Not everyone is required to file their taxes; for those who are not, the here is the IRS link to enter information to receive your stimulus check. The rebates will be available through the rest of 2020.

When can I expect my recovery rebate?

The Treasury Department and IRS announced March 30 that the distribution of the rebates would begin sometime in first three weeks of April. The IRS will be sending a letter to each taxpayer’s last known address about the recovery rebates, up to 15 days after payments are made. The letter will give instructions to follow if payment was not received. People should be careful of scams related to the recovery rebates, and individuals should check the IRS website to confirm information in a letter, if they are unsure if a letter received was legitimate.

What if I didn’t do direct deposit for my tax returns?

For individuals with direct deposit information on file with the IRS, the rebates will be deposited. Individuals who may not have direct deposit information on file can check and enter information through a web-based portal. Otherwise, checks will be mailed. Individuals who do not typically file tax returns will need to submit a simple tax return to receive their rebates.

Is everyone eligible for a rebate?

No. Those who are dependents age 17 and over or immigrants who file taxes via the Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) are not eligible for a rebate.

Will the rebate affect my 2020 tax refund?

The rebate is a refundable tax credit for 2020, paid out in advance, and in general, should not affect a taxpayer’s 2020 tax refund. The only way the rebate would reduce a taxpayer’s 2020 refund would be if their 2019 (or 2018) income was lower than 2020 income, and they didn’t qualify for as much of the credit as they received. For example, if a single taxpayer made over $75,000 in 2020, but under $75,000 in 2019 and received the rebate based on their 2019 income, they would have to pay the excess amount back when paying their 2020 taxes.

What if my family household has changed since my most recent tax filing?

To update household filing status, file or amend your 2019 return as soon as possible. For changes in address, a temporary change of address notice is available through USPS, a form may be filed with the IRS, and taxpayers may write to the IRS informing them of a change of address, which should redirect checks which will be sent if the IRS does not have correct direct deposit information.

If the changes are not caught by the time refund checks are issued, the changes will be made in 2020 tax filings.