Eight businesses are receiving $1,050,260 in business development funding through the Montana Department of Commerce. It is estimated that the funding will support the creation of up to 136 jobs and train new workers at growing businesses in Montana.

Funds will be awarded through two reimbursement programs at the Department of Commerce: The Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund (BSTF) and the Primary Sector Workforce Training Grant (WTG). The two grant programs provide reimbursements to local and county governments and economic development organizations on behalf of businesses for creating good-paying jobs in Montana and training Montanans to fill those jobs.

The following organizations will receive funding for creating jobs and training new workers:

—Big Sky Economic Development Authority will receive up to $66,600 on behalf of Belle Chemical, LLC in Billings, which estimates it will create 18 jobs. Funds will be used to purchase construction materials, equipment and for wage reimbursement. Belle Chemical also will also receive $90,000 from the Primary Sector Workforce Training Grant program to train workers to fill the newly created jobs. Belle Chemical LLC is a chemical manufacturer and packager of consumer products intended for sale online.

—Big Sky Economic Development Authority will receive up to $49,000 on behalf of Wyo-Ben, Inc. in Billings, which estimates it will create 10 jobs. Funds will be used to purchase construction materials, equipment, furniture, fixtures, for lease rate reduction and for wage reimbursement. Wyo-Ben, Inc. is leading producer of Wyoming bentonite clay-based products. The company will be creating another division for bulk commodity cat litter.

—City of Bozeman will receive up to $170,000 to assist XY Planning Networking LLC, which estimates it will create 34 jobs. The grant funds will be used to purchase equipment and for wage reimbursement. XY Planning Network LLC is the leading organization of fee-only financial advisors who specialize in working with Gen X and Gen Y clients, offering comprehensive resources to help financial planners run better and more successful businesses.

—Fergus County will receive up to $70,500 on behalf of Big Sky Processing, LLC in Lewistown, which estimates it will create 15 jobs. Funds will be used to purchase of equipment and for wage reimbursement. Big Sky Processing, LLC will also receive $75,000 from the Primary Sector Workforce Training Grant program to train workers to fill the newly created jobs. Big Sky Processing, LLC will be establishing a U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected mobile meat processing unit in Fergus County.

—Lake County will receive up to $150,000 on behalf of Rocky Mountain Twist Corporation in Ronan, which estimates it will create 20 jobs. Funds will be used to purchase equipment. Rocky Mountain Twist Corporation will also receive $95,480 from the Primary Sector Workforce Training Grant program to train workers to fill the newly created jobs. Rocky Mountain Twist Corporation is a manufacturer of power tool accessories, primarily drill bits, for the retail and industrial markets.

—Missoula County will receive up to $95,000 on behalf of UNAVCO, Inc. in Missoula, which estimates it will create 19 jobs. Funds will be used to purchase equipment and furniture, for lease rate reduction, for wage reimbursement and for equipment relocation. UNAVCO, Inc is a global leader in engineering and data handling for geophysical and environmental sensors.

—Sanders County will receive up to $88,800 on behalf of Agriculture Resource Management, Inc. dba AquaPrawnics, Inc. in Noxon, which estimates it will create 12 jobs. Funds will be used for wage reimbursement. Agriculture Resource Management, Inc. dba AquaPrawnics, Inc. will also receive a $53,030 grant from the Primary Sector Workforce Training Grant program to train workers to fill the newly created jobs. Agriculture Resource Management Inc. dba AquaPrawnics is positioned to become the largest indoor shrimp farm producer.

—Wausau Supply Company will receive up to $46,850 through the Primary Sector Workforce Training Grant Program to train eight new workers. Wausau Supply Company distributes building materials for the industry’s leading manufacturers to authorized retailers from the Great Lakes to the West Coast and is looking to establish a distribution center in Butte.

The next application deadline for the Big Sky Trust Fund Grant Programs is December 16, 2020. In addition, Montana businesses are now eligible to apply directly for workforce recovery grant dollars to help companies refill jobs that were lost due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Montana Department of Commerce has launched a temporary Workforce Recovery grant program as part of the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund (BSTF). The deadline to apply to this temporary program is December 31, 2020.

I was thinking about the Dem plan to increase taxes on corporations (you know, the evil corporations) while not increasing taxes on the middle class. So I looked it up. Here’s what I found from the Congressional Research Service document (fas.org) “Pass-Throughs, Corporations, and Small Businesses: A Look at Firm Size” March 15, 2018. Using stats from an analysis of US census data from 2015, the report shows that “…73% of corporations… had fewer than 10 employees; 85% of corporations… had fewer than 20 employees; 97% of corporations had fewer than 100 employees…” so when voters rub their hands together about sticking it to corporations, just realize they might be your neighbors, your valued community cause supporters, the creators of services and buy-local goods you count on every day.  They and their employees are likely the middle class.

Deborah Nash

Manhattan, Montana

The Center Square

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has blocked a Trump administration change to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that could have removed eligibility for almost 700,000 unemployed, able-bodied Americans.

A lawsuit filed in January by a multistate coalition alleged a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rule wrongly reversed a decades-old policy that allowed states to waive SNAP work requirements. The previous rules granted waivers for larger geographic areas by lumping certain regions with lower unemployment with locations registering higher unemployment, as well as carryover unused exemptions.

To increase workforce participation, Congress in 1996 amended SNAP benefits to limit disbursements to “Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents” (ABAWD), defined as unemployed individuals ages 18-49 who are not disabled or raising minors. SNAP funds were restricted to three months within three years unless subjects are employed for a minimum of 20 hours per week.

But the law granted states the ability to request waivers for that time limit if the state or part of the state had an unemployment rate above 10%, or did not have a sufficient number of jobs to employ SNAP recipients.

The new rule attempted to revise state discretion for waivers due to economic conditions, define geographic scope waivers, and require the state to rely on the entire population’s unemployment instead of employment for ABAWD.

Critics of the geographic waiver requirements point out that past regulations required the USDA to average different regional unemployment rates so more people receive the waiver, even in regions that are below the unemployment benchmark.

“Geographic-area waivers of work requirements for people who receive food stamps are based on the flawed premise that when the unemployment rate in a given area exceeds a certain level, even in a national economic boom, able-bodied people in that area should not be expected to look for work, whether in that area or in a neighboring city or county,” Jamie Hall, a senior policy analyst in empirical studies at The Heritage Foundation, said.

Hall said that ABAWD work requirement exemptions by geographic waivers account for about double the SNAP caseload expected.

“Geographic waivers are not needed to protect vulnerable citizens’ access to food. Other provisions exist or are available to give states the flexibility they need to provide exemptions from the work requirement for people facing difficulties,” Hall said.

Chief Judge Beryl Howell noted “the backdrop of the pandemic has provided, in stark relief, [the] procedural and substantive flaws” of the rule change.

Within two months of the start of the pandemic, more than 6 million Americans enrolled in SNAP.

The court observed USDA was “silent” on how many of enrollees wouldn’t be eligible for SNAP benefits as a result of USDA’s proposal.

The Administrative Procedure Act requires agencies to offer explanations for changing long-held policies, but the court found the waiver changes were “arbitrary and capricious.”

“SNAP was specifically created to help Americans struggling with food insecurity and as we continue to navigate this pandemic, this assistance is more important than ever,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement.

“Instead of helping Americans at a time when so many are facing hardships, the Trump administration chose to cruelly revoke vital food assistance that thousands of Michigan residents rely on. This is an important victory in favor of human decency.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan’s SNAP rolls surged $126 million from February to May.

The federal government pays the full cost of SNAP benefits but splits administration costs evenly with the states.

The court ruled that USDA’s change violated the federal rulemaking process, and vacated the rule in its entirety.

With two dissenting votes, the Billings City Council approved, on Monday, an amendment to the agreement the city has with Lockwood Water and Sewer District (LWSD) that paves the way for the LWSD to expand its sewer district boundaries to provide service to property owners in the TEDD in Lockwood. The amendment allows the expansion without requiring the property owners to sign waivers to protest any future annexation proposals, which became a point of contention over a year ago.

The agreement imposes an 18 percent surcharge for the property owners of the TEDD (Targeted Economic Development District) for any treatment of sewage they get from the city, and makes clear that the agreement in no way impacts negotiations for any future need for water that Lockwood might have. It was also accompanied by a letter from Yellowstone County Commissioners committing themselves to cooperation with the City of Billings in planning future land use restrictions at the city boundaries, said City Administrator Chris Kukulski.

The action paves the way for the development of the TEDD in the most environmentally desirable manner possible, as an industrial park which it is hoped will entice new businesses to the area. That Billings providing sewage treatment is the most desirable way for development to happen — which is sure to happen with or without the agreement — was mentioned as a significant reason for their supportive vote by some of the council members, while others in opposition said they believed that the city was being short changed, since the 18 percent surcharge will generate only $24,000 annually in extra revenue, according to Kukulski. City staff said that the justification for the surcharge is for the additional risk the city faces in meeting regulatory requirements of the Department of Environmental Quality.

LWSD Manager, Mike Ariztia, explained that the next steps involve getting approval of the LWSD board, which earlier rejected a draft proposal because of changes it made to the basic contract they have had with the city for the past 12 years. Ariztia noted that the board had questioned why the issue of future water supplies should be included in an agreement about sewage. LWSD functions as two districts – -a sewer district and a water district. Kukulski said that he thought that mention of it was important because in the past there seemed to be people who believed that promises had been made about future agreements that were not written down. He wants to make sure that no such confusion exists in the future.

Ariztia further explained that once the LWSD board accepted the amendment, a process would be initiated to legally include, within its boundaries, the area which was analyzed for the establishment of the TEDD, which would include properties that are not currently part of the TEDD but could be in the future. That process requires the approval of a majority of the TEDD property owners and the acceptance of the LWSD board.

The agreement with the city also reduces by half, a million dollar bond that the city required of LWSD 12 year ago when they entered into their agreement to guarantee performance. Kukulski said that he believed that the district has demonstrated their viability and the reduction is appropriate.