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Only $100M of Montana’s federal COVID-19 money distributed

Gov. Steve Bullock, right, said Wednesday the money is meant to last the entire year, and that he wants to ensure the state is able to react to a changing coronavirus landscape in the coming months. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

(KPAX) Gov. Steve Bullock this week said his administration has “allocated” two-thirds of the Montana’s $1.25 billion in federal money for Covid-19 impacts – but, so far only $100 million has actually been distributed.

Bullock, a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate, has been under fire from Republican legislative leaders for not getting the money out the door quickly enough, along with some Montana counties.

“This money is meant for the current, right-now economy,” Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas, R-Stevensville, told MTN News. “This money is not for Christmas. … To be dribbling it out at a snail’s pace is absolute failure.”

But Bullock said Wednesday the money is meant to last the entire year, and that he wants to ensure the state is able to react to a changing coronavirus landscape in the coming months.

“We still have a long road ahead of us and we will continue to closely monitor needs in our communities and address them,” he said.

The governor also said his Commerce Department is caught up on the “deluge of applications” for aid, is waiting for replies from 900 applicants to complete the payment process and has weeded out about 750 duplicate applications or other requests that “appear to try to game the system.”

Still, the governor said Wednesday that the state has distributed only about 10 percent of the $300 million allocated for local governments.

Officials in Missoula County said they submitted information more than a month ago and have yet to receive any money.

The governor’s office said state Budget Director Tom Livers met Thursday with Missoula County officials and is “working cooperatively” through any disagreements.

Bullock also said that his administration is just now working through a second round of applications from local governments and emphasized that the money is only for Covid-19-related expenses.

Other allocations of the money include:

· $125 million for loan deferments for businesses, a program that just began last month.

· $80 million in business-stabilization grants for small businesses hurt by the pandemic. About $61 million of these grants have already been awarded.

· $75 million for public schools, to help them with re-opening costs this year.

· A $75 million set-aside for state government’s Covid-19 costs.

· $40 million for costs incurred by mental-health, substance-abuse and other public health services.

The Bullock administration also has spent or set aside money for emergency housing assistance, food banks, summer child-care activities, meat-processing plants, public-health education and private schools.

Bullock said the Commerce Department has processed and sent out as many grants each day in the past month as it usually does in an average year.

He also noted that Congress is working on another coronavirus-relief package, which may include more aid for state and local governments.