Sen. Daines visits local business to highlight federal relief

Several employees stood among wooden dressers, dining room tables, couches and chairs to greet Sen. Steve Daines as he visited the showroom for Black Timber Furniture in Four Corners on Friday morning.

Black Timber Furniture received $65,000 from the federal paycheck protection program, a $349 billion initiative that provides loans to small businesses. The program was part of the $2.2 trillion congressional coronavirus relief package.

When Gov. Steve Bullock issued a stay-at-home order in late March, Black Timber owner Todd Fullerton had to close his Four Corners showroom. He was able to keep operating his Belgrade manufacturing facility because, as an essential business, it was exempt from the state’s stay-at-home order.

Black Timber Furniture’s limited operations led to a sharp decline in revenue, so Fullerton applied for a loan from the paycheck protection program. He said the loan allowed him to keep 80% — or about 12 — of his employees and cover his lease and utilities. He anticipates he will qualify for loan forgiveness.

“Without the loan, we’d be really struggling right now,” Fullerton said.

About 22,000 Montana businesses have received paycheck protection program loans totaling $1.7 billion. Daines, along with Sen. Jon Tester and Rep. Greg Gianforte, voted for the legislation that included the program.

Congress is now considering the next wave of relief money, which could include additional money for businesses.

Daines, a Bozeman Republican, has co-sponsored a bill that would give $50.5 million to state, local and tribal governments to distribute to nonprofits and businesses with fewer than 20 employees, like Black Timber Furniture.

“It’s a solution made for Montana,” he said.

Sen. Jon Tester, a Big Sandy Democrat, supports a bill that would give business owners who received loans through the paycheck protection program more flexibility.

“The Paycheck Protection Program was always intended to be a bridge to get folks through the initial shock of this crisis, and by and large it was successful,” Tester said in an email. “But now, we need programs that are more targeted and provide more flexibility for the small main street businesses that have been hit hardest by the lasting effects of the pandemic.”

The paycheck protection program received some criticism as it was rolled out because businesses struggled to get the loan money and understand the loan requirements. Congress has since modified the program.

Gianforte, a Bozeman Republican, spoke on the House floor in March in support of the program and said it has been critical.

“Greg will continue supporting Montana small businesses and workers as we recover from the pandemic and its fallout,” his spokesperson said in an email. “Greg believes it’s also critical that the $1.25 billion the federal government sent the state gets out of Helena and to our communities that need it right now.”

Black Timber Furniture has also received a $10,000 loan from Montana’s business stabilization grant program, which provides small businesses with money to cover costs associated with the pandemic. Bullock created the program in early May using some of the $1.25 billion that Montana received from the federal coronavirus relief package.

Bullock has used the federal money to create about a dozen grant programs to limit the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Gallatin County businesses and nonprofits have received $7.6 million from the programs, the largest amount of any county.

Bullock, a Democrat who is challenging Daines for his Senate seat in November, visited Café M on Tuesday to discuss the business stabilization grant that the business received.

On Friday, Bullock announced that $1 million of the state’s portion of the federal relief money had been given to businesses through the Montana Agricultural Adaptability Program to help them alter their operations in response to COVID-19.

The state is no longer accepting grant requests from the Montana Agricultural Adaptability Program, but several other programs are still reviewing applications. Bullock will also likely create new programs because much of the federal money Montana received has yet to be allocated.