The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved nearly $1.9 million in additional Public Assistance funding for the COVID-19 response in Montana. The assistance was approved by a major disaster declaration issued March 31, 2020.  FEMA has provided a total of $30.2 million for the Montana COVID-19 response to date.

The $1.9 million was provided to the Billings Clinic for COVID-19 associated costs, contracts, and facilities, which include work completed between March 17, 2020, and December 30, 2020.

This funding is authorized under the January 21, 2021, Presidential Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense & the Secretary of Homeland Security and Section 403 of the Robert T. Stafford Act.

For the COVID-19 response, FEMA has simplified the Public Assistance application and funding process to address the magnitude of this event and to allow local officials to receive eligible funding more quickly. These reimbursements play a critical role as state, local and tribal officials work tirelessly to assist their communities during this response.

Wyoming rancher Leisl Carpenter has announced that she is suing the Biden Administration and the Department of Agriculture for race discrimination under the US Constitution, in response to a “Rescue Plan” loan forgiveness program that explicitly bars her from participation because she is white.  

Carpenter, a 29-year-old rancher from Laramie, is represented by Mountain States Legal Foundation and the Southeastern Legal Foundation. The suit, Leisl Carpenter v Tom Vilsack and Zach Ducheneaux, was filed Monday in the United States District Court, District of Wyoming. She is seeking to be treated fairly and equally, without respect to her race.

In March 2021, the Biden administration signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, providing $4 billion to forgive loans for “socially disadvantaged” ranchers and farmers. White ranchers are excluded, in violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of Equal Protection under the Fifth Amendment.  

 “Like a lot of farmers and ranchers, our client has struggled to keep her family ranch afloat through all the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic, only to learn that she is ineligible to even apply for Biden’s loan forgiveness program solely due to her race,” said MSLF Associate General Counsel William E. Trachman Tuesday. “Instead of being rescued by Biden’s plan, she’s been excluded and discriminated against for no other reason than the color of her skin.”

 “The blatant discrimination in the American Rescue Plan Act, Section 1005, is ridiculous,” said Carpenter.  The government needs to bring an end to this horrendous practice of racial discrimination immediately and start treating Americans as individuals based on character and individual qualities, not based on the color of their skin.”

 Carpenter’s 2,400-acre Flying Heart Ranch is a family operation located in Wyoming’s Big Laramie Valley. The 500-plus head of cattle she runs, and grass hay sales are the sole source of income for her, her husband, and her 19-month-old son, Casen. Her maternal grandmother’s family originally homesteaded on the land in 1894. Unlike many family ranches, Carpenter’s outfit has been passed down mostly to daughters rather than sons. She’s proud to follow in a long line of women who work the land.  

 To avoid foreclosure and save her family’s ranch when she was 20 years old, Carpenter decided to take out an FSA loan from the federal government.  As was the case with many ranchers, the COVID-19 pandemic added to the financial difficulties Carpenter faces. When the Biden administration passed a $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus bill, it included a loan forgiveness program for ranchers. This might have been just the lifeline the ranch needed, but Carpenter and other white farmers and ranchers would learn that they weren’t eligible. The loan forgiveness program Biden signed into law excluded white ranchers and farmers, dashing the hopes of many in the agricultural community who believed Biden when he called it a “rescue” plan. 

 “Making skin color the basis of a government benefit is not only unconstitutional: it is also morally wrong,” added Trachman. “One simply cannot promote racial justice by perpetuating racial injustice.  The way to end discrimination is to stop discriminating.”

The Center Square

The Texas Public Policy Foundation and America First Policy Institute have sued the U.S. Small Business Administration, alleging a provision in the America Rescue Act requires the SBA to prioritize businesses owned by women and minorities to receive nearly $30 billion in COVID-19-designated relief money above other applicants.

Greer’s Ranch Café vs Guzman was filed against the SBA and its acting director, Isabella Casillas Guzman, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. It is the first lawsuit filed by the TPPF and AFPI against the Biden administration.

The ARPA, which passed along party lines and was signed into law by President Joe Biden, appropriated $28.6 billion to a Restaurant Revitalization Fund to be dolled out to applicants. Section 5003 of the bill requires the SBA to prioritize applicants who are women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged business owners.

The SBA defines socially disadvantaged individuals as those “who have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias within American society because of their identities as members of groups and without regard to their individual qualities. The social disadvantage must stem from circumstances beyond their control.”

Economically disadvantaged individuals are defined as those whose “ability to compete in the free enterprise system has been impaired due to diminished capital and credit opportunities as compared to others in the same or similar line of business who are not socially disadvantaged.”

The lawsuit asks the court to determine whether the government has the right to deny Americans access to federal assistance based on their ethnicity and gender. The groups argue the government’s policy “is wantonly illegal, unconstitutional, and immoral.”

“These race and sex preferences are patently unconstitutional, and the Court should promptly enjoin their enforcement,” the complaint states. “Doing so will promote equal rights under the law for all American citizens and promote efforts to stop racial discrimination, because ‘[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.’”

TPPF’s Chief Counsel Robert Henneke said, “For over 125 years, the United States Supreme Court has recognized that the Constitution forbids discrimination by the government against any citizen because of his race. This lawsuit will enforce that guarantee.”

The lawsuit calls on the court to block the enforcement of any policy that would discriminate against certain classes of people in order to “promote equal rights under the law for all American citizens and promote efforts to stop racial discrimination.”

As of May 12, the RRF has received more than 147,000 applications from women, veterans, and socially and economically disadvantaged business owners, requesting a total of $29 billion in relief funds, representing nearly half of the applicants.

Guzman argues the SBA “is helping thousands of restaurants and other food and beverage businesses across the country get the help they desperately need to recover and rebuild from this pandemic. The numbers show that we’ve been particularly successful at reaching the smallest restaurants and underserved communities that have struggled to access relief. These businesses are the pillars of our nation’s neighborhoods and communities. We are making progress, but we have much more work to do as we continue reaching our underserved entrepreneurs.”

Overall, the SBA received more than 266,000 applications representing over $65 billion in requested funds. During the first week of the program, it received applications from 76,183 women business owners, 6,093 veteran business owners and 42,284 economically and socially disadvantaged individuals.

A total of $2.7 billion of relief funds have already been distributed to 21,000 restaurants since the fund opened May 3, 2021, the SBA reports.

Montana State University Billings announced that their Military and Veteran’s Success Center, opened in 2018, has hired  Shane Grantham as the interim director of the Center to aid in the continuation of veteran outreach on campus.

Grantham, a Billings-native, entered the U.S. Army after graduating high school and served for 20 years in active duty. Throughout his time in the military, Grantham mentored college-aged soldiers which is where he found his interest in guiding others. Following his retirement, he tried a few different career paths until landing a position for Veterans Upward Bound at MSUB where he regained his interest of mentorship through student interaction.

Dr. Patrick Barkey, Director of the University of Montana, Bureau of Business & Economic Research (BBER), will keynote MCF’s Montana Centers of Opportunity Forum, which will take place in person July 29, 11:30 m at the Hilton Garden Inn in Kalispell.

The event will feature a panel discussion with Michael Goguen, Two Bear Capital;  Bill Mosley, GL Solutions;  Scott Osterman, Montana Department of Commerce ; and Tom Stergios, ATG Cognizant, with moderator, Kelly Schwager, Oracle.

Montana Centers of Opportunity Forum will provide the latest on Montana’s post-pandemic economy.

Patrick Barkey has served as Director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) at the University of Montana since 2008. He has been involved with economic forecasting and policy research for more than 35 years, in both the private and public sectors. for more information and registration email

Delivering on his promise to hold the line on new state spending and provide Montanans with broad-based tax relief, Governor Greg Gianforte today signed into law a fiscally conservative, pro-jobs budget.

“This budget lays out the roadmap to our Montana comeback, and will help unlock our state’s full, outstanding potential,” Gov. Gianforte said. “After more than a decade of out-of-control spending in Helena, we’re committed to being better stewards of taxpayer money, and our responsible budget brings much-needed fiscal restraint to state government.”

First introduced by the governor on January 7, the budget cuts hardworking Montanans’ taxes by over $60 million per year, and cuts $145 million in spending.

The budget also fulfills many policy priorities outlined in the governor’s Montana Comeback Plan, including investing $1 million per year in trades education and $2.5 million per year in incentives to increase starting teacher pay.

Importantly, the budget makes a historic investment in combating the drug epidemic through the HEART Fund. The program invests $25 million per year, using marijuana tax revenues, a portion of the tobacco tax settlement, and a federal Medicaid match, in community substance abuse prevention and treatment programs.

By Bethany Blankley, The Center Square

More children are likely to have increased access to educational options after state legislators across the U.S. advanced a slew of bills this year expanding school choice, according to several state-by-state surveys.

“This is a banner year for the educational choice movement. Hundreds of thousands of children nationwide will now have greater access to educational opportunities,” Jason Bedrick, director of policy at Ed Choice, a national nonprofit organization that promotes state-based educational choice programs, told The Center Square.

At least 50 school choice bills have been introduced in 30 states so far, designed to create or expand vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and education savings accounts, among other measures.

To date, 10 states have proposed five new programs and 10 states have expanded existing programs, Bedrick told The Center Square. They include the legislatures of Indiana and Nevada creating Educational Savings Accounts for the first time in their states, as well as Kentucky and Missouri creating tax-credit-funded Education Savings Accounts for the first time in their states.

Kentucky’s bill was the first school choice bill ever proposed in its legislature. And the majority of legislators passed the bill twice – first to make it to the governor’s desk, and second, to override the governor’s veto, creating the state’s first school choice program.

Arkansas’ legislature also created its state’s first tax scholarship program. In April, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the bill designed to help low-income families.

Arkansas is now the 20th state in the nation to adopt a tax-credit scholarship program.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice also signed into law “the most expansive school choice program in the country, a nearly universal option for education savings accounts,” the Heritage Foundation also reports in its analysis of states’ legislation.

“The events of the last year have demonstrated to many families that public schools are not always the reliable institutions many thought they were,” the Heritage Foundation reports. “It also opened their eyes to just how powerful the teachers unions are,” and as a result, legislatures responded to parents requests by undertaking one of the biggest expansions of school choice in history.”

Critics, particularly teachers unions and their supporters, that school choice programs drain resources from public school systems.

Several states expanded their existing voucher programs this year, including Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, and Maryland. Likewise, several states expanded their tax credit scholarship programs, including Florida, Indiana, Montana and South Dakota.

Notably absent on the list is Texas, whose Republican-controlled legislature has failed to advance school choice legislation.

Most of the Texas bills have been held up by the Calendar Committee Chairman, Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, who by not scheduling bills for committee assignments or votes ensures they never see the light of day.

Unlike Texas, “Even in California, hardly a school choice mecca, there is rumbling,” the Clarion Institute reports. “A revolutionary universal education savings account initiative is in the works for the November 2022 ballot. The ESA would give parents control of the money the state spends on educating their child. The funds would be spent on the school of their choice, and any money not spent would accumulate and could be used for college or vocational training.”

In March, a bill was read a second time in the California Assembly, AB 300, and referred to the Committee on Education. It would create a tax-credit funded Education Savings Account under an existing California education program to fund scholarships for private school tuition, online learning programs, tutoring, special needs therapies, transportation, textbooks, testing fees, and computer hardware and software.

And California State Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, R-Rocklin, proposed “Cal Grant K-12” earlier this year. The privately funded grant program would “help parents who have been forced to pay out-of-pocket expenses to keep up with their children’s remote learning.” According to Kiley’s office, the bill “incentivizes individuals and businesses to make donations that will provide eligible students scholarship funds they can use for approved expenses to help reduce pandemic-induced learning loss.”

A new study from the University of Arkansas suggests that the more a state provides parents with freedom to choose their child’s school, the better the state’s students’ score on the National Assessment of Education Outcomes.

Representative Rosendale introduced the Direct Primary Care Accessibility Act, a bill that would protect the ability of Americans to purchase health care from their doctors without going through an insurance company first.  

Direct primary care plans allow consumers to pay a monthly fee to doctors in order to access a broad variety of health services in the event that they become sick. It is viewed as a method to enhance access to preventive care by smoothing out the costs of going to a physician or getting basic medical treatments.

Representative Rosendale championed direct primary care as a tool for reducing rising health care costs while he served in the state legislature, and again as State Auditor, paving the way for the recent passage of Senate Bill #101, which was signed into law by Governor Gianforte.

“We’ve all heard that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Representative Rosendale said. “If the law can help people get to the doctor more quickly and cheaply with direct access to primary care physicians, then we have a good chance of seeing healthier Americans. It’s an approach that’s just gone into law in our state that I think will work nationwide.”

Montana’s unemployment rate declined from 3.8% in March to 3.7% in April. The unemployment rate for the U.S. was 6.1% for the month.

“Montana’s economic recovery depends on getting Montanans back to work into good-paying jobs, allowing our businesses to fill open jobs and meet their growing customer demand,” Gov. Gianforte said. “By ending the pandemic-related federal unemployment bonus that discourages work and by launching a return-to-work bonus, more Montanans will reenter the workforce, and Montana’s economy will continue to rebound.”

Montana’s unemployment rate for April matches the pre-pandemic rate of 3.7% in February 2020. There are, however, 9,428 fewer Montanans in the labor force than there were in February 2020.

Montana’s total employment, which includes payroll, agricultural, and self-employed workers, grew by 1,799 in April. Employment gains were fueled by workers returning to the labor force, which added 1,437 workers in April as vaccines were made available to more Montanans. After March’s strong growth in payroll employment, Montana saw a small decline of 300 payroll jobs in April.

“The specter of inflation is concerning. It’s time for the federal government to turn off the spigot of spending trillions of dollars that drive up our national debt, a shameful burden our kids and grandkids will inherit,” Gov. Gianforte said. The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased by 0.8% over the month in April for total a 12-month increase of 4.2%, the largest 12-month increase since September 2008. Prices of used cars and trucks rose 10% in April and accounted for a third of the increase. Prices mostly increased across the board. The index for all items less food and energy, referred to as core inflation, increased 0.9% in April.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) have published a joint temporary final rule  making available an additional 22,000 H-2B temporary nonagricultural guest worker visas for fiscal year (FY) 2021 to employers who are likely to suffer irreparable harm without these additional workers. Of the supplemental visas, 6,000 are reserved for nationals of the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

DHS first announced the planned supplemental increase of 22,000 visas for the H-2B Temporary Non-Agricultural Worker program on April 20, 2021. The supplemental H-2B visa allocation consists of 16,000 visas available only to returning H-2B workers from one of the last three fiscal years (FY 2018, 2019, or 2020), and 6,000 visas for Northern Triangle nationals, which are exempt from the returning worker requirement.

“Today’s joint rule helps American businesses and addresses the need for robust worker protections,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “For the first time, we are setting aside supplemental visas for noncitizens from Northern Triangle countries, in furtherance of President Biden’s and Vice President Harris’ direction to expand legal pathways for protection and opportunity for individuals from those countries.”  

“The temporary final rule is designed to prevent permanent and severe financial loss to U.S. employers by supplementing the congressionally mandated H-2B visa cap, takes into account feedback from American businesses, employer organizations, and labor representatives, and is one piece of the administration’s broader comprehensive framework for managing migration throughout North and Central America,” said USCIS Acting Director Tracy L. Renaud. “This rule incorporates several key provisions to ensure adequate safeguards for U.S. workers and H-2B workers. The rule requires that employers take additional steps to recruit U.S. workers, and provides for “portability,” which allows H-2B workers already in the United States to begin employment with a new H-2B employer or agent once USCIS receives a timely filed, non-frivolous H-2B petition, but before the petition is approved. Portability enables H-2B workers to change employers more quickly if they encounter unsafe or abusive working conditions. DHS and DOL will also conduct a significant number of post-adjudication reviews to ensure compliance with the program’s requirements.”

Starting May 25, eligible employers who have already completed a test of the U.S. labor market to verify that there are no U.S. workers who are willing, qualified, and able to perform the seasonal nonagricultural work can file Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, to seek additional H-2B workers. They must submit an attestation with their petition to demonstrate their business is likely to suffer irreparable harm without a supplemental workforce. Additional details on eligibility and filing requirements are available in the temporary final rule and the Temporary Increase in H-2B Nonimmigrant Visas for FY 2021 webpage.