Sen. Steve Daines R-Mont., held a town hall Friday to answer questions or concerns Montanans have about COVID-19.
He said he is doing everything he can as a senator to help all Montanans and people in need get through this tough time.
Four hundred and seventy-nine Montanans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, he said, Friday, adding that 16 have died and currently there are three active hospitalizations.
Gov. Steve Bullock offered his condolences this morning on the 17th death from COVID-19, which he said was confirmed by the Yellowstone County public health department.
Friday, Daines said the effort of Montanans has kept numbers down.
“It’s good to see these overall low virus numbers, we’ve been lucky here in Montana,” he said. “I think, in Montana, somebody said we’ve been practicing social distancing since 1889 it come kind of natural for us that was the year, of course, of statehood, so the idea is social distancing it comes natural to us which is why we love our state so much and why we’re proud to call ourselves Montanans.”
Montana has been really hit on the economic side, Daines said, adding that compared to the neighboring states Montana has suffered more job losses per capita than any of the neighboring states.
He said 90,000 Montanans are unemployed as a result of the economic shutdown.
People are anxious to get safely back to work, he said.
“I do believe we can do both,” he said. “We can prioritize health, we can ensure we protect the most vulnerable in our state and we can at the same time get people back to work. We can do both and we must do both.”
He said he has secured more than a billion dollars of economic aid for Montana to support the health care workers, to support the hospitals, the frontline heroes including first responders, to prioritize rural health as well as to accelerate the development in the manufacturing of drugs to treat and prevent coronavirus infections.
“I’ve always fought for more jobs and less government,” Daines said. “And, we’re helping those who have lost jobs by providing some additional assistance because of no fault of their own — they’ve called this a black swan event, in other words it came in from nowhere. I mean it came from China, we know that, but it hit us by no fault by anybody in the United States.”
He added that he also secured more than $480 billion in relief for small businesses and for workers, as well as for testing and for hospitals.
Something he is working on, he said, for the ranchers who can’t get their cattle out to packers and if they do they are getting low prices and the packers are selling it very high prices, he is working with the Department of Justice and the secretary of agriculture what they can do in the short- and long-term to address this issue in cow country.
He said he introduced Thursday two bipartisan proposals that will provide greater flexibility for the Paycheck Protection Program that he said will provide more relief for Montana’s small businesses, supporting Montana workers and protecting Montana jobs.
“This Paycheck Protection Program has been very successful for many small businesses across Montana, so now we need to make sure it works for Montana small businesses and workers,” Daines said. “In fact, this bipartisan proposal I have is a direct result of listening feedback in the beginning like these calls from Montanans. I’ve had numerous Zoom conference calls, video calls finding out what flexibility they need under the PPP to make it that much more effective.”
He said he urged President Donald Trump’s administration to prioritize and expedite direct checks to eligible Montanans who are receiving the supplemental security income, Social Security disability insurance or Social Security benefits because people who are already on fixed incomes struggle to make ends meet.
Many Montanans have received their direct check, he said, he has also heard from people who haven’t received it, so he’s working to make sure all Montanans get their check.
Earlier this month, he introduced a bipartisan bill with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., to find common ground on this relief for the Main Street Act.
This bill would provide extra relief for the smallest of small businesses, 20 workers or less, would take the decision making and those powers out of the hands of D.C. and put it closer to where the real need is, he added.
“This is an example of more targeted action that we need that’ll strengthen response and really empower local economic development — to provide relief for our most vulnerable rural and small businesses,” Daines said. “I also, introduced a bill this week that required 45 percent of the relief funds that have already been directed at the state of Montana and to all states would be distributed to local governments and our local communities to make sure those dollars get out to every corner of Montana, all 56 counties, every one of our small communities that have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.”
He said Trump will be returning to Montana in the coming future and announced steps to implement the $19 billion coronavirus food assistance program for farmers and ranchers impacted by the pandemic.
Last Monday, Daines said, he announced 58 rural health clinics in Montana will be receiving nearly $3 million to expand testing for the coronavirus.
“It’s important that we do have greater access to testing as we work to safely re-open our economy and I’m glad to have fought to secure this funding to support these rural health clinics,” he added. “We’ll continue to work and ensure the needs of our communities are met during this crisis.”
He also announced Montana will receive about $50 million relief funds to help the nursing homes combat the effects of this pandemic.
The nursing homes, assisted living facilities not only in Montana, but across the country, he said, have been hit especially hard.
He added that the failure of a component of the St. Mary Diversion and Conveyance Works that supplies much of the water to the Milk River each year just adds to the stressful time.
“With all of the uncertainties and challenges we’re experiencing with COVID my heart is heavy to see and hear the pictures about the loss of Drop 5 in the St. Mary’s project upon the Hi-Line,” Daines said.