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Coronavirus Relief Fund Task Force presents report to governor


Last updated 5/4/2020 at Noon

The Coronavirus Relief Fund Task Force presented a recommendation report to Gov. Steve Bullock during a press call Friday, providing a brief overview of the guidelines in its report.

The report provides recommendations on how to deploy the $1.25 billion of funding Montana received through the CARES Act to help the state weather the financial storm caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bullock thanked members of the task force and acknowledged how badly they needed their work was by many Montana citizens.

“I appreciate your fast and thorough work to craft recommendations as we work to deploy some of these funds,” he said.

Task Force leader Larry Simkins, CEO of Washington Companies, provided a brief overview of what the task force had done in the weeks since its creation back in April.

“We were expecting federal guidance within 48 hours on April 17 … by the time we received federal guidance, which wasn’t until April 22, the task force was fully engaged,” Simkins said.

He said the task force gathered input from the public and discussed how the CARES Act funds should be spent over the course of four virtual meetings held throughout the last few weeks. He offered his thanks to his fellow task force members, and the people they’ve worked with.

“We couldn’t have done this without the mutual respect, transparency and candor of everyone involved,” he said.

“On the good side, this entire project was done with no travel, budget and it has a zero-carbon footprint,” he added, jokingly.

Simkins said the report contains recommendations for how to prioritize the spending of CARES Act funds for supporting Montana citizens, businesses and nonprofits, but does not provide specifics about amounts to be allocated which he said is ultimately as the state’s discretion.

“The report provides a framework for were the state could focus resources, and ideas regarding distribution,” he said, “… It’s not a list of selected projects or selected grant recipients. It is not a recommendation on how much should be allocated to each specific relief program.”

Simkins said the report identifies three primary silos of funding: State and local government funds, economic assistance and unforeseen impacts.

Simkins said the report recommends the state use the CARES Act funding to provide enhanced support for individual food security through food banks and food pantries, as well as support providers of immediate social safety net services.

He said the report also recommends providing rental assistance to individuals, businesses and nonprofits feeling the effects of the pandemic.

He said the report also includes the recommendation that a focus by the state be on business stabilization through a grant assistance program, with forgivable loans that have low or no interest rates.

Simkins said the report recommends “direct, immediate and mid-term assistance” to the hospitality and tourism industries, which are being hit particularly hard by the pandemic’s economic consequences.

President and CEO of Glacier Bank Corp. Randy Chesler said a section of the report includes specific recommendations from Montana citizens, and he encouraged Bullock to given them some thought as he reviews the report.

“There are over 40 recommendations we received from business and individuals in Montana… There are a lot of good ideas from broad collection of people,” Chesler said.

Montana State Sen. Jon Sesso also emphasized the importance of immediate financial support for the people of Montana.

“What we’ve heard most from the citizens that are hurting is the whole concept of now, and getting them help in the near-term,” Sesso said.

But he also encouraged being vigilant of the long-term consequences of the pandemic as those immediate concerns are dealt with.

“We really have to keep our eye on that cliff that the COVID crisis has created, and to be really creative about how we look out of the longer term after the Dec. 31 deadline, into next year, and really the years that follow,” he said.

Sesso said the state government should use the lessons it learned in the great recession, which Montana weathered relatively well compared to many other states.

Simkins talked about how important he thinks the work the task force is doing is, especially in light of a recent personal tragedy that struck a member of the task force.

“During this process, a little over two weeks, one of the 24 members of the council, their mother contracted COVID-19 in another state, she passed away this week,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with her family, but it does resonate that what we’re doing here is real and we’re all honored that you trusted us to do this work.”


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