Bullock confirms fifth death; issues directive preventing evictions, foreclosures

Calling it a ripple effect of heartbreak, Gov. Steve Bullock on Tuesday announced Montana’s fifth COVID-19 death, and issued a series of directives intended to provide relief to renters and hospitals as their bills come due.

As of Tuesday morning, 184 positive cases had been reported in Montana, including 14 hospitalizations.

“These losses of life impact us all, no matter which community we might live,” Bullock said during an afternoon press briefing. “We really are all in this together. We will overcome these challenging times.”

While the list of infected patients continues to grow and the state’s stay-at-home order remains in effect, Bullock issued a directive protecting renters from eviction if they are unable to make their rent.

It also prohibits landlords from imposing fees or other penalties due to late or nonpayment of rent during the stay at home order. The order also pauses residential foreclosures due to nonpayment during the duration of the stay-at-home directive.

“This isn’t a free pass on rent or on home debt,” Bullock said. “Tenants and home owners still need to meet their obligations, and should do so on time where they can. But as long as this virus forces Montanans to stay home to save lives, Montanans need a home to stay in.”

Essential utilities were also included in the governor’s directive. While most utility companies have already agreed, the order ensures that services cannot be shut off during the stay-at-home order for nonpayment.

It also prevents companies from imposing late fees.

“It’s a common-sense measure that reflects really how our communities have come together,” Bullock said. “Montanans need to know we’ve got their back.”

Bullock also noted the struggles faced by the state’s healthcare facilities, including hospitals. Most have postponed non-critical procedures, costing them revenue. And while they scramble for supplies, their costs have mounted. Rural hospitals have been hit particularly hard.

Under the new order, hospitals can now receive financing to stay open and acquire supplies under the Montana Facilities Finance Authority Act. The financing could help cover operating expenses connected to a hospital’s COVID-19 response.

“While the federal stimulus package or Cares Act will provide support for operating expenses, that funding will likely take time,” Bullock said. “Allowing for this financing will provide an immediate need for healthcare facilities to purchase supplies, pay staff and remain open.”