Gianforte Administrator Able to Distribute Greater than $ 1.6 Billion in Federal Assist ~ Missoula Present

Gene Connell, director of the city’s wastewater treatment plant, and Jordan Hess, a member of the Missoula city council, discussed the bacterial process of treating wastewater. Covid Relief Funds will help improve water and sanitation facilities across the state. (Martin Kidston / Missoula Current File Photo)

HELENA (KPAX) – Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series on federal Covid Relief Fund in Montana – which will exceed $ 7 billion.

While the legislature has left the city in 2021 in Montana, one of its largest projects is just beginning: The distribution of more than 1.6 billion US dollars in federal Covid aid from the American rescue plan.

Governor Greg Gianforte and a quartet of advisory commissions created by the legislature will decide how the money will be spent on everything from health care to expanding high-speed internet.

“Not only are we going to address some of the Montaners’ health problems, but we’re going to use this money for long-term benefits to help the people of the state and our state economy,” said Mike Foster, director of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA ) Program. “It’s a great opportunity to do this instead of just looking for short-term solutions.”

The commissions, made up of state lawmakers and members of the Cabinet or Gianforte staff, meet this week to determine how each recommendation on the use of the money will be interpreted in four areas:

Infrastructure: Almost $ 600 million will be allocated here, including at least $ 400 million for water and wastewater projects in local cities, towns, counties and irrigation districts.

High-speed Internet expansion: This money pot is 275 million US dollars – with the possibility of using much more, expanding broadband access to areas of Montana without it or with a service that does not meet today’s speed standards.

Economic transformation, stabilization and workforce development: $ 150 million for this broad category – and another $ 200 million for housing grants, which the Commission may have a role in shaping.

Healthcare and Human Services: Approximately $ 380 million is available here to fund more than a dozen specific programs in the field, including vaccines, contact tracing, mental health, and childcare.

Federal guidelines will dictate some of the spending, but the state has wide discretion to decide most of the infrastructure and broadband money and parts of the other categories.

The commissions will solicit and review proposals for projects and make recommendations to Governor Gianforte, who will make the final tender – although he will have to provide a detailed justification if he rejects a recommendation from the panel.

Foster told MTN News that some of the projects may be years in the future, but the administration wants to make a decision on the money soon, especially for programs to help the economy recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our approach will be to get this money to Montana as soon as possible,” he said. “But at the same time we have to be very careful to ensure that we stay within the parameters that the Fed has set for us.”

Applications for competitive water and sanitation projects are due July 15, and the administration has set up a website, www.arpa.mt.gov, where companies can submit applications and follow the process.

The minority leader of the house, Kim Abbott, D-Helena, is a member of the Advisory Commission for Economic Transformation and Stabilization and Personnel Development.

She says the Democrats weren’t eager to create another layer of bureaucracy – the commissions – to review spending before the money is distributed.

But she says it should be a good opportunity to review ideas and hear from experts how best to spend the money. The Democrats are also on board with the aim of making investments that will benefit the economy and the state’s workforce over the long term, she added.

Abbott says she hopes her commission will decide to “take a hard look at” ways to improve access to childcare in Montana.

“I think that’s one of the biggest barriers to getting back into the job market,” she says. “If people do not have access to consistent childcare, they cannot be gainfully employed.”

Tim Burton, executive director of the Montana League of Cities and Towns, says the money spent on sewage and water projects is a one-time injection of cash to pay for much-needed improvements to these systems across the state.

The federal government used to be a much bigger partner in infrastructure spending, and ARPA is a welcome change, he says.

“There’s a huge project backlog,” says Burton. “This money is well used to modernize clean water systems across the country.”

US Senator Jon Tester, D-Mont. – the only member of the Montana congressional delegation to vote for ARPA – told MTN News that he will be closely monitoring the process as well, hoping the money will go where it can help quickly.

“I think the challenge you have with the commissions is to reach a consensus on where that money will go,” he said on Tuesday. “In the previous administration, the governor called – I thought he was spending the money wisely.

“I think the commissions can do an equally good job. The proof lies in the pudding. “

Next: What happened to previous federal Covid-19 relief funds for Montana, especially those for businesses?

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