Feds providing Montana National Guard funding for COVID-19 response

Note: The information in this release was provided by the offices of the Montana governor and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte 

Montana’s governor and its congressional delegates have announced the federal government is providing funding to the Montana National Guard to help respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Gov. Steve Bullock announced Wednesday that the federal government will cover all approved costs incurred by the National Guard, even though the Montana National Guard Soldiers and Airmen remain under the command and direction of the governor.

“I’m pleased the president recognizes that Montana is working hard to fight this virus,” Bullock, who is campaigning for the U.S. Senate and faces John Mues of Loma in the Democratic primary election, said. “With this federal support, we can fully utilize the Montana National Guard to aggressively respond to COVID-19 and prevent further spread, and we can ensure that our guardsmen and women receive the resources they deserve.”

With authority under the Stafford Act, the president issued a memo April 7 announcing Montana and several other states will receive full funding from FEMA to cover costs from using National Guard forces to prevent, mitigate and respond to the threat posed by COVID-19, the governor’s release said.

Montana’s congressional delegates said the decision came after a request last week from Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., and U.S. Sens. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Jon Tester, D-Mont.

“With President Trump’s swift action, the men and women of the Montana National Guard can respond to the threat of COVID-19 in our communities with full federal support,” said Gianforte, who is running for Montana governor and faces Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and state Sen. Al Olszewski, R-Kalispell, in the Republican primary election. “I appreciate President Trump acting to ensure our state, particularly the Montana National Guard, has resources it needs to combat the COVID-19 outbreak.”

“I’m glad we were able to get the federal support necessary for the Montana National Guard to help our communities, first responders and care providers on the front lines of the Coronavirus pandemic,” said Daines, who is campaigning for re-election and faces John Driscoll of Helena and Daniel Larson of Stevensville in the Republican primary election. “I thank President Trump for acting on our request to ensure we have the help needed to keep Montanans safe during this crisis. Thank you to the National Guard members currently supporting the mission to protect Montanans — you all make Montana proud.”

“Since the start of this outbreak, I’ve repeatedly called on the administration to activate Title 32 authorities to give the men and women of the Montana National Guard the critical support they need,” Tester said. “Protecting the folks on the front lines is a national responsibility, and I’m glad the administration agreed to our request to provide members of the Guard activated to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the same benefits and protections as their federally activated peers — as they continue to risk their lives and health to keep our communities safe.”

The federal funding was part of the CARES Act, signed into law March 27, Gianforte’s release said. The bipartisan measure includes $1.4 billion for deployment of the National Guard. This funding level sustains up to 20,000 members of the National Guard under the direction of the governors of each state for the next six months to support state and local response efforts to the public health crisis.

Trump’s memorandum directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency “to fund 100 percent of the emergency assistance activities associated with preventing, mitigating and responding to the threat to public health and safety posed by the virus that these states undertake using their National Guard forces.”

The memo also directs the secretary of defense to request governors “order National Guard forces to perform duty to fulfill mission assignments, on a fully reimbursable basis, that FEMA issues to the Department of Defense for the purpose of supporting their respective state and local emergency assistance.”

Last week, Bullock activated the Montana National Guard under state active duty authority and funding to assist in screening individuals arriving in Montana airports and rail stations. The Guard’s presence extends the state’s ability to enforce the travel quarantine order and make sure that people arriving in Montana aren’t bringing new COVID-19 cases with them. The National Guard is also assisting the local operation in Toole County. This recognition of the needs within the state allows for full federal funding of the National Guard operations while Bullock retains in command and control of the Soldiers and Airmen of the Montana National Guard.