Two of the three members of Montana's congressional delegation were in the area on Tuesday, with Democratic Sen. Jon Tester touting his work to get the American Rescue Plan Act through the Senate and its nearly $1.9 trillion of financial aid into the hands of local governments and businesses and GOP Rep. Matt Rosendale touring businesses in Clancy, seeing what he could do to help the lumber industry prosper.
Tester, the only member of Montana's congressional delegation to vote in favor of the American Rescue Plan Act, held a news conference at Oddfellow Inn and Farm, a local business that received federal aid dollars to stay afloat during the global health pandemic.
"Over the past year, I've had literally hundreds of conversations with families and small business owners, health care workers and educators here in Lewis and Clark County about what we need to get past this pandemic," Tester said. "In order to fully recover from this crisis, we need to continue getting vaccines in the arms of Montanans as quickly and safely as possible."
He said while continuing to push more Montanans to get vaccinated, the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, provided needed aid to help the businesses and agencies serve those Montanans.
"If we're going to make sure we get the economy open, small businesses, schools, local governments need to be able to rebound, and that's why I fought to make sure the American Rescue Plan contained targeted, needed funding to help us get back on our end," Tester said.
The city of Helena and Lewis and Clark County governments are set to receive $8 million and $13.4 million in projected funding through ARPA.
Additionally, the act earmarks about $60 million for new and existing COVID relief programs to aid a wider range of small businesses, particularly in the hospitality industry.
Tester also announced a new $25 billion federal grant program tailored to local restaurants.
Paul Mabie is the co-owner of Oddfellow Inn and Farm, a farm-to-table French restaurant on that property called Maison, and the Smokejumper Cafe inside the Helena Regional Airport.
Mabie said if not for the federal assistance over the past year, he and his husband's businesses would not have survived.
"We put everything on the line to open up this project in July of 2019, and when COVID hit, we thought we were going to lose everything," Mabie said of Oddfellow Inn and Farm and Maison. "We are here today thriving, vaccinated and ready to open up our businesses to receive the roar of hospitality that Montana is experiencing due to the funding that came down through these programs."
Mabie said the Payroll Protection Program loans as well as aid through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act kept his business afloat.
With money provided through the $25 billion restaurant revitalization grant program, Mabie said he was able to hire new employees, restock inventory and, within the coming weeks, reopen the long shuttered Smokejumper Cafe.
The city of Helena is using much of its $8 million to pay for water and sewer infrastructure upgrades and repairs. Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins thanked Tester and Congress for the needed assistance.
Collins said thanks to CARES Act and ARPA aid, "the citizens of Helena did not lose any services."
"We want you to know, senator, we're very appreciative because Helena would have suffered had the funding not been provided," Collins said.
Rosendale stopped in at Marks Lumber in Clancy on Tuesday, to tour the facility, which is a small specialty mill.
They will produce 2-million board feet in timber products this year, operations manager Jeremy Glatz said. He said because they are a specialty shop, they not seen the dramatic price increases for timber products.
He also said that 95% of the lumber they use comes off of privately owned land.
Rosendale, a Republican freshman representative, said the stop in Clancy was part of his tour of lumber facilities throughout the state to see what he could do help operations.
“One thing that is consistent and a problem we continue to face is poor forestry practices and management,” Rosendale said.
He said he introduced the Forest Information Reform Act in February. He said the bill amends the cottonwood requirements for re-consultation in Forest Service plans when new information is found. Rosendale said this lets the Forest Service blend new information into their current plan rather than starting from scratch.
He said he was impressed with the Marks Lumber operation.
“I love it,” Rosendale said, adding it was the first lumber facility he visited that was focused on producing top-end unique products.
Marks Lumber says on its website it makes quality specialty forest products timbers, rough-sawn boards, circle-sawn flooring, and natural wood siding products. It is also a premium supplier of custom timber frames. It has about 25 employees.
Its website says its products can now be found across Montana and nationwide, and in “everything from barns and cabins to resorts and multimillion-dollar mansions.“
Rosendale was to visit Marks Miller Post & Pole Inc., another Clancy business, later in the day.
Congress is out of session for two more weeks. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Washington on June 14.