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Bullock: State has allocated $800 million of CARES aid
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Bullock: State has allocated $800 million of CARES aid

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COVID-19 testing at the Butte Plaza Mall

County health department staff collects information from drivers waiting in line Wednesday morning for free COVID-19 tests in the Butte Plaza Mall parking lot. County Health Officer Karen Sullivan is strongly advising all Butte-Silver Bow residents to get tested.

More than $800 million of the $1.25 billion received by the state in April as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act has been either allocated or paid out, Gov. Steve Bullock said in a call with reporters Wednesday, adding that he's kept funding in reserve to be able to respond to future needs.

"Through the coronavirus relief fund we've been able to provide immediate relief to Montanans who need it most and also think about ways to sustain businesses and organizations over the long-term to ensure that our communities remain vibrant and provide the services that folks across our state rely upon," Bullock said in a press conference.

The largest chunk of money, $300 million, is allocated for local government expenses. Local governments have gone through the first of four rounds of  allocation requests, with about $32 million awarded so far.

Local governments can make requests to be reimbursed for costs related to things like public health expenses, regular and overtime hours for employees working on COVID-19 responses, medical expenses and more. About $277.5 million of the allocation remains to be spent in the remaining rounds.

The state Department of Commerce has paid out $100 million to a dozen business grant programs, with money going to every county in the state. Bullock said over the past month the state Department of Commerce has issued as many grants daily as it does in an average year.

The most popular of the programs is the business stabilization grant, Bullock said, which has distributed more than $60 million, out of $80 million allocated, to over 7,000 businesses in Montana to pay for costs like rent, utilities and bringing employees back to work.

The department has caught up with the "deluge" of applications, Bullock said. Nearly 900 applications have been contacted but not responded to repeated requests for additional documentation or payment information, the governor said. The agency has also identified 750 duplicate applications or applications that appear to be "attempting to game the system," Bullock said.

A business loan deferment program has been allocated $125 million, with $25 million earmarked for the hard-hit hospitality industry. Last week Bullock announced $75 million would go to schools to help prepare for reopening in the fall. The full list of allocations is at https://commerce.mt.gov/Montana-Coronavirus-Relief/Resources.

While about 65% of the funding has been allocated, the governor said he views it as essential to hold back money so the state can adapt to future needs.

"We know that things have rapidly changed throughout the pandemic, and it's clear that the virus is still presenting significant challenges to our health and safety as well as our economic stability," Bullock said. "We have to ensure that we have the resources to weather the next six months. Because we've held back some money, we've retained our ability to be flexible and act quickly when new needs are identified."

The Montana Republican Party has been critical of Bullock's rolling out of the aid money in this election year where the governor, who is termed out of his current office, is running against incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines. Prominent state GOP lawmakers have also penned op-eds in papers around the state calling for the faster distribution of the funds.

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