Economic leaders and county officials joined Sen. Jon Tester in Missoula on Friday to praise the American Rescue Plan and its impacts on local government and small business owners as they emerge from the Covid pandemic.
Tester, who supported the $1.9 billion relief act, said the funding provides a sweeping number of benefits, from vaccinations to economic relief provided both to individual Americans and small businesses.
“We need to make sure that workers, schools, businesses and local governments come out of this crisis strong, because this economy is going to rebound and we’re going to need them to rebound,” Tester said.
The plan includes around $63 billion nationally in relief for small businesses, including hospitality and entertainment venues. Around $750 million is dedicated to the hardest hit businesses in the travel and tourism industry, and $383 million is earmarked for Montana’s public schools.
Housing and rental assistance also received a portion of the funding, as did the Paycheck Protection Program – a tool to to ensure workers remain employed until businesses fully recover.
“The plan provides critical resources that gives Montana’s businesses hope and gets communities reopened as quickly as possible, and we’ve seen some of the benefits already,” Tester said. “If we’re going to come out of the economic downturn we saw because of the pandemic, businesses need to be open for the economy to turn around.”
The new plan also includes around $14 million in direct payments to the City of Missoula and $22 million to Missoula County, as well as other local governments across the country. That revenue helps cover pandemic related costs incurred by local governments while patching revenue gaps and ensuring essential services continue with pushing costs onto tax payers.
Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick said the county was able to pull off the largest election in state history, keep courts running, keep police on the streets and provide other services due to funding support from the federal government.
Without it, he said, taxpayers would have had to make up the difference or do without certain services.
“We got through it (the pandemic), because the services people rely upon every day remained in place,” Slotnick said. “We did it because the federal government came through with enough money where we could meet these needs. They did their job so we could do our job so everyone in Missoula could do their job.”
Slotnick said the county will be able to address a number of issues going forward because of federal relief, including Missoula’s housing crisis, its lack of mental health services, infrastructure needs and economic development.
Ryan Montgomery, owner of the Montgomery Distillery in downtown Missoula, said the funding also helped his business endure the economic impacts of the pandemic.
“If someone would have told me last year I’d have to shut down for three or four weeks without any revenue, I’d probably say it would have been the end of us,” Montgomery said. “We got to try that out, and it would have been the end of us if we hadn’t gotten some timely relief.”
The funding helped hundreds of small businesses across the state and included revenue to keep employees on staff. Business owners also secured hundreds of small grants to cover operating costs as their revenues declined from closures and limited capacities.
“There are thousands of businesses here in Missoula County and across Montana that have seen hundreds of millions of support to get through one of the hardest times that any business has faced in our lifetime,” said Grant Kier, president and CEO of the Missoula Economic Partnership. “It’s those small family businesses that make the fabric of our community what it is. I believe we’re going to get through this and find better days ahead.”
The state also is set to receive around $2.7 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan. Tester said the U.S. Treasury Department is set to release guidelines on where and how that funding can be deployed in the coming weeks.
Some counties have expressed concerns over how the state intends to pass that funding on to local governments and local needs, and if the state will require counties to provide matching funds from their own relief funding to access the state’s portion of relief funding.
Tester said the intent of Congress was to cut red tape and get the money to the sectors where it’s most needed, and without the interference of state government.
“The bottom line is that county governments have services to provide and we don’t want to see them have to diminish their services,” Tester said. “The congressional intent was to minimize the red tape and get this money out to the folks that need it, including municipalities and county governments.”