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.
Co-Director, Montana Budget & Policy Center