Montana’s primary strength is its healthcare accessibility for older citizens, reports Senior Living. With a population of just over 1.1 million, Montana’s healthcare access score was second among all states – a number aided by the Montana Rural Physician Incentive Program that subsidizes and attracts medical professionals.

Montana also had many Medicare hospitals per resident aged 65 or older. Additionally, Montana has been on the leading edge of telehealth initiatives designed to aid a dispersed citizenry comprising the third lowest population density in the country.

The state also ranked 7th for its healthcare cost score, thanks to moderately lower insurance premiums and annual drug costs, which are about 40 percent lower than the national average. A notably low death rate from strokes helped its medical outcomes score, which was 18th best in the country.

Holding first place is North Dakota, which also scored an A+. South Dakota, scoring an A held 3rd place.

According to Senior Living, states in the south scored rather poorly.  Six southern states earned F grades.

One of America’s top retirement destinations, Florida, earned a D+ for senior healthcare and outcomes. Arizona, another popular state, earned a B grade.

West Virginia ranked last probably because it has fewer resources to devote to elderly care, given that it is overwhelmed by an opioid crisis, said the report. That fact, combined with the state’s prevalent behavioral risk factors, poverty rates, and chronic disease also ranked it as the most costly— 71 percent higher than the national average.

The state also ranked 7th for its healthcare cost score, thanks to moderately lower insurance premiums and annual drug costs, which are about 40 percent lower than the national average. A notably low death rate from strokes helped its medical outcomes score, which was 18th best in the country.

Heart disease is the most prevalent medical concern for America’s seniors, and Minnesota boasts the lowest mortality rate for that illness

Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced $3 million in new funding under the Cybersecurity for Small Businesses Pilot Program. Three grants will be awarded to state agencies to provide training, counseling, and other tailored cybersecurity services for startups and emerging entrepreneurs.

“With small businesses accounting for 99.9 percent of all American businesses and employing nearly half of the private workforce, any cyber threat to our small businesses is a threat to our country’s overall economy,” said SBA Administrator Guzman. “The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to strengthening our nation’s cybersecurity and equipping small businesses with the tools they need to strengthen their cyber health and prevent costly attacks that disrupt their businesses. Through this new funding, the SBA will fund ecosystem partners to provide more cyber training and counseling to strengthen small businesses’ ability to compete in this increasingly digital economy.”

Applications will be accepted until Aug. 2, and applicants can apply for awards ranging from $1,000,000 to $1,045,000 for a performance period of 24 months ending September 2026.

Eligible applicants include state and territorial government agencies that seek to provide training, counseling, and other tailored cybersecurity services for startups and emerging entrepreneurs.

The competitive funding opportunity for state governments will support efforts to educate emerging small businesses, and to help them develop robust cybersecurity measures.

SBA’s Cybersecurity for Small Business Pilot Program has awarded nearly $9 million in funding since 2022. Proposals responding to this Funding Opportunity Number SB-OEDCS-24-001 must be posted to under “Cybersecurity for Small Business Pilot” by 11:59 p.m. (EDT), Aug. 2.

In addition to the grant program, the SBA along with Resource Partners offers other cybersecurity resources to small businesses, including in-person and online training. To find these SBA local resources, visit www. local-assistance. To learn more about SBA’s programs and services related to cybersecurity, visit www. cybersecurity and https://www. smallbusinesscyber.

The Department of Labor has increased the minimum salary threshold which makes workers eligible for overtime pay. Employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act are entitled to at least one-and-a-half times their rate for hours worked beyond the 40-hour workweek, unless they are exempt.

Previously, those exemptions included salaried employees primarily performing “executive, administrative, or professional duties” and making $35,568 per year or more. Now, that minimum salary threshold has increased to $43,888 per year and will increase even further to $58,656 on January 1, 2025.  

Additionally, already in effect, the minimum salary for highly compensated employees—another exempt group — jumped from $107,432 per year to $132,964, and will increase again on January 1 to $151,164 per year.  

The rule is expected to impact more than four million workers, according to the DOL.  

Starting “July 1, 2027, these earnings thresholds will be updated every three years so they keep pace with changes in worker salaries.”  

Legal challenges between now and then could affect whether the January 1 changes go into effect, but employers are urged to be prepared to make changes depending on how litigation progresses.

The Montana Farm Bureau has submitted a letter to U.S. House of Representatives leadership urging them to take up the Fort Belknap Indian Community (FBIC) Water Settlement Act of 2024 (S.1987).

“The Milk River Project in north central Montana is aptly referred to as the “Lifeline of the Highline” because it provides water to over 120,000 acres of productive farmland, several towns, and two tribes,” said MFBF President Cyndi Johnson in her letter to Speaker of the House Mike Johnson and Democrat Leader Hakeem Jeffries. “Just over one week ago, a portion of the Milk River Project near Babb, Montana, suffered a disastrous failure, flooding the nearby community and threatening the economic certainty of a large portion of our state.

Johnson explained that the FBIC provides the assistance to restore St. Mary’s Canal that MFBF members have been asking for and negotiating about for more than 20 years. This legislation will provide $275 million for Milk River Project infrastructure repairs and to restore the St. Mary’s Canal.

“Without the essential repairs S. 1987 will provide to the Milk River Project, a large portion of our state will literally dry up and it’s not just our state that will suffer,” said Johnson, adding, “According to the Milk River Joint Board of Control, this project and the agriculture it supports raise enough food to feed 1 million people.”

The Conrad wheat farmer explained, “Our members, these rural communities, and our state will be put in great jeopardy if this project is not repaired quickly and completely. Please act promptly on the Fort Belknap Indian Community Water Settlement Act of 2024.”

By Chris Woodward, The Center Square

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen is pleased that a federal judge in Kansas has agreed with his request to block President Joe Biden’s student loan relief effort.

“This is great news that a court is blocking the President’s plan to buy votes from young, recent graduates and driving our country deeper into debt,” said Knudsen in a press release.

The Biden administration said the president’s SAVE Plan would cancel over $100 billion in student loan debt and help struggling families make ends meet.

The attorney general views the loan relief effort as more of a “loan cancellation scheme” in an election year.

“Hardworking Montanans should not be forced to foot the bill for anyone’s education, but their own,” the attorney general said.

The ruling comes after a lawsuit from Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach. Knudsen joined that effort with the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.

The attorneys general said the Department of Education wrongly interpreted the Higher Education Act and went around the U.S. House and Senate to write its own rules.

“We’re talking about folks who are literally being crushed,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre told reporters in May. “They’re trying to get their lives back on track.”

Knudsen argued that cancellation of student loans would harm Montana’s economy through a loss of state tax revenue and jobs, as well as increasing law enforcement costs. Knudsen also points out that the United States Supreme Court told Biden in 2022 that he did not have the authority to unilaterally cancel student loans through the HEROES Act.

Current economic conditions are proving to be especially difficult for the young, according to a recent report in Epoch Times.

The obstacles holding younger generations back include historically high home prices, stagnant inflation, debt and spending habits, and wages.

And, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR) home prices aren’t going to go down any time soon. NAR reported the highest ever national median sales price of $419,300 for a single-family home in May.

“We’re actually forecasting that home prices will continue to grow based on the lack of inventory and demand for home ownership,” Jessica Lautz, NAR deputy chief economist and vice president of research.

A $400,000 price tag translates to a $40,000 down payment—with the usual requirement of 10 percent of the home cost.

Millennials born 1981 to 1996, and Generation Z, born 1997 to 2012, face an uphill battle on the path to first-time home ownership, particularly in the years following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Factors impacting home affordability for the younger generations include historically high prices, three years of stubborn inflation and interest rates, personal debt and spending habits, unemployment, restricted development, and wages. And, often burdened with student loan debts, limited incomes and facing high interest rates, would-be young home buyers have trouble qualifying for any mortgage.

At current prices a single family would have to spend $4,000 or $5,000 a month in mortgage payments. In addition many areas have limited inventory.

The average homebuyer’s monthly housing payment is $2,829. That’s $30 less than the record high in April but more than double from three years prior. In 2021, the median monthly mortgage payment was $1,242, compared with $972 in 2011, according to Bankrate.

Using economic data on historical home prices and household incomes from the Federal Reserve, a Visual Capitalist report illustrates how, in 1984, the house sales price-to-income ratio was at 3.49 as the median annual household income for Americans was $22,420 and the median house sales price was $78,2000.

That ratio climbed to 5.8 in 2022 as the median household income rose to $74,580 while median house sales prices skyrocketed to $442,600 in quarter four. The ratio, however, dropped to 4.9 in 2023, according to a 2024 Harvard report. It remains, however, unaffordable for many households.

While Federal Reserve data indicate that between 1971 and 2024, the current interest rate of 6.86 percent has stayed below the historic highs of 18 percent or more seen in the early 1980s, interest rates soared after hitting historic lows of 2.65 percent in January 2021. This was due to the Fed raising interest rates to combat inflation, which significantly increased mortgage rates on homes.

Mortgage down payments are also high. The home marketplace Zillow released a June 20 study that found that for a “typical” U.S. home valued at roughly $360,000, home buyers with a median income would need to put down nearly $127,750 to secure a mortgage that would ensure monthly payments were 30 percent or less of their monthly income.

The annual inflation rate in June 2022 climbed to 9.1 percent—the largest increase in 40 years. The current rate of 3.3 percent is still significantly higher than the average 0.1 percent seen in 2015.

For young Americans who can only afford to rent, more of their income goes to rent than in years past. The average proportion of a person’s income that goes to rent was 25 percent in 2000, and it’s now 40 percent. A study by Susan Wachter, a professor of real estate and finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, found that 49 percent of those aged 18 to 29 chose to live with their parents in 2021, up from 27 percent in 1960.

While year-over-year wages grew considerably after the pandemic for those under 40, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta show that wage growth peaked in 2022 before falling each subsequent year as median home prices continued their ascent.

Unemployment rates also ballooned during the pandemic, rising to 14.8 percent in April 2020. The rate plunged as the economy slowly recovered, dropping to 3.4 percent in 2023 but rising slightly again to 4 percent in May.

A June 24 research study from Lending Tree analyzed more than 428,000 anonymized credit reports from users in 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. It found that 97.1 percent of Gen Zers possess non-mortgage debt of some kind. Roughly 80.8 percent owe credit card debt, and the median non-mortgage debt for that age group hovers around $16,562.

The numbers are even higher for millennials. Non-mortgage debt averages $30,558, while 38.4 percent have student loan debt, the highest for any age group. Millennials are also the second most likely age group to have personal loans with 16.8 percent owing a median balance of $2,921.

A government grant of $3.2 million will purchase electric school buses for Billings School District 2 this coming school year in partnership with First Student, the district’s transportation contractor. The grant, through the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will cover the cost of purchasing the buses and constructing the charging infrastructure.

According to reports the cost of an electric school bus is about $400,000 – about four times the cost of a diesel school bus.

Public schools are claiming a new reasoning, besides a threat of global warming, for using electric vehicles. They are concerned about the exposure to diesel exhaust for children. They point out that diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen, to which children are being exposed on a daily basis.

The electric school bus has no exhaust to be concerned about.

Havre School District used electric school buses last year, to high acclaim. Not even cold weather was a detriment, they reported. Apparently, researchers are finding ways to enable EVs to deal with the cold. A system, called e-Thermal bank, is separate from the main EV battery and combines a chemical heat pump with microwave energy to produce heating or cooling on demand. Researchers estimate that the e-Thermal bank can deliver a range extension of up to 70% at a cost that is less than expanding battery capacity.

Billings is apparently getting the federal funds to buy the buses because Billings is included in a federal “Clean Cities program”. Billings and other Montana cities, as well as communities in Idaho and Wyoming are part of a special region called Yellowstone-Teton Clean Cities or YTCC’s.

YTCC functions as the Department of Energy’s on-the-ground advocate focused on petroleum displacement activities in the Greater Yellowstone Region. YTCC’s mission is to reduce consumption of traditional petroleum-based fuels in the three- state region; encourage and expand the use of alternative fuels, and advanced vehicle technologies by promoting other transportation options.

 Other than YTCC, the Clean Cities Program has about 90 communities targeted.

Other cities included in YTCC are Bozeman, Big Sky, West Yellowstone and others surrounding Yellowstone Park – – as the federal government is making an effort make the greater Yellowstone Region the focus of a petroleum displacement area.

Many of the cities are getting funds to build electric charging stations.

As traffic safety partners across Montana prepare to meet this month, roadway fatalities continue to be a primary concern. In 2023, 208 people died on Montana roads, and Vision Zero – zero deaths and zero serious injuries on Montana roadways – remains the goal. Statewide crash trends will be one agenda item of discussion at the (https:// gov/visionzero /plans/ chsp.shtml) Executive Leadership Team (ELT) virtual meeting scheduled for Thursday, July 25, from 1 to 3 p.m.

“Despite challenges, leaders across the state continue to work together with a common goal of Vision Zero,” said Larry Flynn, Deputy Director of the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT). “Zero is the only acceptable number of lives lost on Montana’s roadways, and MDT looks forward to continued collaboration and coordination with our partners statewide to work towards that goal.”

The agenda for the meeting includes:

– Public Comment

– Comprehensive Highway Safety Plan Overview

– Statewide Impaired Driving Work Plan Approval

By Evelyn Pyburn

Some time this summer Yellowstone County will initiate an arraignment court.

The need for an arraignment court in Yellowstone County has been growing and it will become essential once the proposed short-term holding facility becomes a reality, according to Yellowstone County’s Justice of the Peace David Carter.

Judge Carter is currently in the process of gathering data about how many defendants pass through the courts  – municipal courts of Billings or Laurel, justice court, and district courts  — each week. “We are trying to see what the work load will look like and how to manage it on a daily basis,” said Judge Carter.

“This is significant change,” said Carter, pointing out that it will affect almost all aspects of how the court system operates, requiring a lot of changes of judges, clerks, detectives and law enforcement officers.  “We are going to try it this summer. There will be some trial and error,” he said.

This will be the first arraignment court in Montana. It is meant to address the needs of the short term holding facility that the county and city have collaborated to build. The county accepted applications this week for a general contractor to oversee its construction, which is anticipated to take about a year. The facility will hold inmates for only 72 hours. It is viewed as one of the solutions to the over-crowed jail that serves Yellowstone County. It will enable law enforcement to arrest and hold those perpetrating minor offenses, for whom in the past they have not been able to jail because of having no place to hold them.

A primary goal of having an arraignment court is to relieve some of the pressure on the processing requirements in the other courts.

What’s an arraignment court?

It’s a defendant’s first appearance in court – the first time they appear before a judge. Judge Carter said anyone having seen the television show “Night Court” may have an idea what it is, but the arraignment court for Yellowstone County is not going to be held at night – nor will it have Judge Harry Stone or a “Bull” Shannon.

In many larger court systems the defendant is arraigned before they ever go to jail, but if that doesn’t happen, the arraignment still must happen within a reasonable period of time after arrest, usually within 48 to 72 hours. The short term holding facility creates a need for the arraignment to happen very promptly.

During the arraignment, a defendant is formally advised of the criminal charges against him, informed of his rights, and may be asked to enter a plea to the charges. The court may also decide at arraignment whether the defendant will be released pending trial.

It involves a process of sorting out the charges against a defendant in accordance with state laws or local ordinances, looking at their criminal record and determining, if there are other outstanding charges, misdemeanors or felons. Quite often a defendant does have other pending charges and perhaps outstanding warrants, or instances of having failed to appear in court, explained Carter. “Someone may be on probation, have felonies or is a fugitive. A lot of people arrested in Billings have warrants from other cities or from outside the state,” explained Judge Carter. Determining those facts dictates in which court – municipal, justice or district — they are charged and what the charges will be, making sure there are no contradictions in the records.

Oversight of an arraignment court must be an attorney who is either elected or appointed by the County Commissioners. Besides deciding the charges and the court, they decide  such things as whether there will be a bond and if so how much, or will the defendant be required to have a GPS ankle bracelet or will there be alcohol monitoring, etc.

The goal is to harmonize their appearance in court and to communicate what they have to do, set a schedule and to direct the right pace to go,” said Judge Carter.  The point is “to cycle people through quickly and not to have wasted space.”

A lawsuit filed on June 12, by the American Farm Bureau Federation and 11 other groups, challenges the lawfulness of the Bureau of Land Management’s Public Lands Rule, which threatens the future of ranching in the U.S. by destabilizing a decades-old tradition of grazing on federal lands.

Gary Heibertshausen, a sheep rancher in Montana and Farm Bureau member, says access to public lands for livestock grazing is crucial to the success of his ranch. “If Willow Creek Partners could not graze its livestock on federal land, we would be forced to sell our sheep and cease operating as a ranch.”

Heibertshausen and his partners hold six grazing permits covering several thousand acres of federal lands. He is supporting the case, saying the BLM rule creates substantial risk and uncertainty for ranchers, adding, “Under the rule, we can no longer be certain that the public lands on which we currently rely for grazing will remain available for grazing over the coming years.”

BLM issued the final rule in May with a stated goal of increasing the health and resilience of public lands, but a lack of clarity in the rule and changes in policy that are not authorized by law make it unacceptable. The rule also makes it more difficult for ranchers to play an important role in the stewardship of public lands.

AFBF President Zippy Duvall said, “Further restricting grazing on public lands takes us backward not forward because ranchers are delivering a return on the trust placed in them to care for public lands. They are clearing brush that could fuel wildfires, controlling invasive species, and bringing overall health benefits to the land.”

The benefits of grazing range from reducing wildfire risk and slowing the spread of invasive weeds to building robust root systems and spurring forage growth for native species. The misguided Public Lands Rule threatens the important balance our country has achieved on public lands, as well as the future stability of the many ranches that depend on grazing permits.

BLM oversees approximately 245 million acres of property in the West, which amounts to one-tenth of all U.S. land. For nearly a century, farmers and ranchers have worked with the federal government to ensure Western land can be used for both public enjoyment and agricultural use. So the rule changes to the management of public lands have broad implications for agriculture and the future for America’s ranchers.