Washington Briefs

The following are condensed from press releases and compiled by Sidney Herald staff:

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines announced the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is distributing additional relief funds to assist vulnerable Montanans. Specifically, HHS will distribute approximately $15 billion to eligible providers that participate in state Medicaid and CHIP programs. HHS is also distributing $10 billion in Provider Relief Funds for safety net hospitals. “I’m glad to have helped secure these funds which are critical for our providers serving our most vulnerable patients in Montana. These funds will help assisted living facilities and home and community based services providers who serve elderly and disabled Montanans in their homes as we continue to fight against this virus,” Daines said.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester introduced with Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) an amendment to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) that provides additional legal protections for servicemembers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. “I worked quickly with Chairman Moran to craft this common sense legislation to expand protections under SCRA for military families whose deployments and moves were disrupted by COVID-19, and provide much needed relief to our men and women in uniform. I’ll keep pushing this bill until it becomes law, and continue fighting to ensure those serving our country at home and abroad receive the assistance they’ve earned,” said Tester.

U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte urged Amtrak’s president and CEO to reconsider cuts in service along the Hi-Line that will reduce service from seven days to three for the Empire Builder, which runs along the Hi-Line with stations from Wolf Point to Libby. “Reliable access to rail service is important for communities along the Hi-Line. Not only is passenger rail an economic driver for the state, it is also an affordable travel alternative. Reduced service threatens the connectivity of Montana’s rural communities,” Gianforte wrote.

U.S. Sen. Daines sent a bipartisan letter to Senate Leadership urging them to make permanent provisions in previous COVID-19 legislation that expanded telehealth services for Medicare beneficiaries. “Telehealth has proven to be pivotal for many patients during the current pandemic, ensuring they receive the care they need while reducing the risk of infection and the further spread of COVID-19,” Daines wrote.

U.S. Sen. Tester questioned Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on the effectiveness of programs available to businesses in rural areas during a recent hearing. “The unemployment rate is 13.3 percent…and since we’ve got a lot of poverty in rural America, would you give me a quick assessment of the programs that the Fed is working on in these areas… In particular, the [businesses] that got really trashed in my state are restaurants, bars, workout facilities, motels — are we able to focus this money in any way to the hospitality industry to really make sure the money is going there? Because those folks are really really really in tough shape,” said Tester.

U.S. Rep. Gianforte introduced a bill to increase access to broadband. The Standard Fees to Expedite Evaluation and Streamlining Act establishes a common fee for processing applications to deploy communications facilities on federal property to boost connectivity for rural and frontier areas. “As we have found amid the COVID-19 crisis, it’s more critical than ever that Montanans across our state have access to fast, reliable broadband. By creating a standard fee, local service providers and the federal government will be able to work together to bring broadband and wireless services to underserved areas. I look forward to moving this bill forward and will continue working to bridge the digital divide,” Gianforte said.

U.S. Sen. Daines cosponsored a major police reform bill in the Senate to help restore confidence between communities and law enforcement by increasing accountability, transparency and commonsense training. “The men and women who serve our communities in law enforcement put their lives on the line every day to protect our families, and a few bad actors have reflected poorly upon the values of their service. We must work to restore confidence between our communities and law enforcement,” Daines said.

U.S. Sen. Tester announced he has secured nearly $1 million to help Montanans train for and secure jobs in healthcare. The funds will benefit students at the University of Montana and Montana State University. UM will receive $438,278 for a training program and MSU will receive $344,880 for scholarships to increase diversity in the healthcare workforce. “The COVID-19 health crisis has shone a spotlight on the critical need for good doctors and nurses here in Montana. This funding will help us get more quality health care providers into our rural and underserved areas, and help make the healthcare workforce look more like the folks they care for,” Tester said.