MISSOULA, Mont. — The American Rescue Plan Act signed earlier this month means about $2.7 billion in relief funds for Montana, and this week state lawmakers are drafting a bill that decides where the money goes.
Some of the funding is already earmarked for specific purposes like unemployment, schools, cities and counties, but there’s around $910 million that’s more flexible.
Republicans and Democrats in Helena listed broadband and infrastructure projects as priorities.
Republicans also want to help industries impacted by COVID-19 shutdowns. Democrats want to see affordable housing projects, direct payments to essential frontline workers and money for job training and child care.
Lawmakers spent last week in subcommittees proposing ideas and evaluating the framework. There’s a very short period of time to get the allocations hammered out before the transmittal deadline, with lawmakers hoping to have it on the floor of the House next week.
Republican State Rep. Matt Regier of Kalispell says he plans to introduce an amendment that would mean counties, cities or schools would not qualify for state-appropriated money if they have COVID-19 regulations more restrictive than the state, such as mask mandates.
“The whole idea is that if you're going to have further restrictions on your local, say county, and then require more dollars to keep things running or fill in that hole, that doesn't seem right to me,” Regier said Monday in a phone call with NBC Montana.
We asked what he would say to counties or schools that say they have mask policies in place to protect people from COVID-19.
“Well, don't mandate it. Let the kids and the parents decide,” he answered.
Regier said he's heard support from both lawmakers and Montana citizens.
As far as whether that proposal would be allowed by the ARPA guidelines, Regier says they’re still working to figure out the rules.
Susan Fox, the executive director of Legislative Services, said, “There are ongoing discussions among the legislators that any grant amount to a local government would be reduced by 20% if that government had enacted a health reg that was more stringent that the state’s. No formal amendment or analysis has been drafted.”
A Missoula County commissioner told NBC Montana they are watching the proposal closely and are concerned about a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t take into account the ability to address public health issues at a local level, something local jurisdictions have been able to do under both the Bullock and Gianforte administrations.
We reached out to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office on the proposal. A spokesperson said, “The legislature is considering many proposals as they work to appropriate these funds, and the governor will carefully review the bill when it reaches his desk.”
You can see how much money each county is set to directly receive from ARPA here and a full summary of what Montana is expected to receive below.