Bullock extends stay-at-home order; announces sale of bonds for economic recovery

A healthcare provider mans a COVID-19 test station in Missoula. Gov. Steve Bullock on Tuesday extended the state’s stay-at-home order for another two weeks, along with the closure of schools and certain businesses. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Saying that a healthy economy and a healthy population go hand in hand, Gov. Steve Bullock on Tuesday extended the state’s stay-at-home order for another two weeks, along with the closure of public schools.

He also extended several other directives aimed at public health while announcing measures geared toward economic recovery, including the sale of bonds to prepare cities and towns for future infrastructure work.

“Today we successfully sold bonds at historically low interest rates to move forward with planning and designing critical infrastructure projects across our state,” Bullock said. “When the time comes, we don’t have to wait on selling bonds. That’s already done.”

Bullock said the first issuance of three bonds netted $33 million. The infrastructure work will create an estimated 412 jobs paying more than $20 million in wages, he said.

“By selling those bonds today, we’re ensuring that when it’s safe to do so, that we can immediately boost our economy by putting shovels in the dirt to both address the infrastructure needs our communities have and to create good paying jobs.”

Bullock also waved several requirements guiding how counties receive emergency funding. Among them, he dismissed a requirement that local and county governments implement a 2 mill emergency levy before accessing new funding from the $2 trillion stimulus package passed last month by Congress.

The governor said counties will no longer need to use all available emergency levies before accessing state emergency or disaster related funding.

“Local and county governments are integral to the response to COVID-19,” Bullock said. “They shouldn’t be forced to levy additional taxes on Montanans to access emergency funding passed by Congress to respond to the needs of residents in this economic situation. This is a simple fix that makes sense.”

Bullock two weeks ago issued a directive asking all Montanans to stay at home, except under certain circumstances. The directive was set to expire Friday, though the governor extended it for another two weeks.

He also extended the closure of all public schools through the same period, and kept in place an order closing bars and restaurants, except take-out orders. Those entering the state will also need to self-quarantine for another two weeks.

Staying at home had benefits beyond protecting public health, Bullock said.

“We stay at home so we can more quickly rebuild a thriving economy,” he said. “It’s not a choice between a healthy population and a healthy economy. The two go hand in hand. Managing this public health crisis now will prevent longer term consequences that could upend our economy for a longer during and with a worse outcome.”

Between March 29 and April 5, the state issued 24,000 unemployment insurance payments. Over that time, the payments amount to nearly $8 million.

“Over the last week alone, we put more than $7.8 million into people’s pockets and Montana’s economy,” said Brenda Nordlund, acting commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry. “We are committed to helping Montanans retain economic stability for their families and for our communities through unemployment insurance.”

Bullock also said the Montana National Guard has tested 1,102 individuals at state train stations and airports since the Guard was activated last week. Six of the people tested were referred to healthcare providers and none tested positive for the virus.