Bullock announces aid for businesses, uninsured

| March 24, 2020 12:05 PM

Gov. Steve Bullock has announced measures to help individuals and businesses address the economic fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak, in addition to covering testing and treatment for uninsured Montanans.

Bullock said on a call with the press that he is relaxing some requirements to make unemployment benefits more accessible to workers laid off, quarantined or forced to take care of family members as a result of COVID-19. The emergency rules waive the one-week waiting period before individuals can receive benefits, and are in effect as of last week.

Temporarily displaced workers are required to maintain contact with their employer and must intend to return to work after the crisis subsides, Bullock said.

“We will continue to do everything we can to support workers and businesses as we begin to fully understand the impacts of COVID-19 in Montana,” he added in Wednesday morning press release.

Bullock also announced Montana small businesses impacted by COVID-19 can apply for emergency loans through the Small Business Administration and the administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.

“Ensuring that small businesses in Montana have access to capital and resources that will allow them to weather temporary closures and bounce back from critical quarantine efforts is paramount to my administration,” Bullock said.

Affected businesses can apply for up to $2 million in 30-year loans with an interest rate of 3.75 percent. The loans may not be used to pay for debts, payroll or other bills that are not related to the COVID-19 outbreak, and the loans are not intended to replace lost sales or profits.

Bullock also said uninsured Montanans will be eligible to receive coverage for COVID-19 testing and treatments, with a recommendation from a provider, starting on March 23.

Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP recipients are already eligible for coverage for COVID-19 testing and treatment. About 8.6% of Montanans are estimated to be uninsured.

“This is a significant step in containing the spread of coronavirus in our state. We know that the lack of health insurance often results in the delay of seeing a doctor or being turned away, which could further fuel this pandemic and put other Montanans at risk,” Bullock said.

In his call with the press, Bullock said he “commends” counties which have implemented closures of all bars and restaurants. He added he has not made any determination about statewide closures, “but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.”

As of Tuesday morning, Montana had tested about 1,700 people, with 46 testing positive for the virus.

Bullock said Montana would be receiving more from the federal government.