This week the House Appropriations Committee focused on creating the framework for appropriating the $3 billion American Rescue Plan (ARP) package that Montana will receive from the Federal Government. While there are those that suggest sending this money back, the reality is that it will either be spent in communities like Cut Bank, Shelby, Conrad, and Sunburst or the Montana share will go to places like San Francisco and Chicago. 

Given that Montanans will shoulder the debt either way, I am working to keep these dollars in Montana and directed towards long term infrastructure projects. 

As written, the money will be appropriated to five main areas: Education, Health Care, Infrastructure (water, wastewater, and sewer), Communications (fiber for broadband, cell towers, and public service radio), and Economic Stabilization. The goal is to direct the money into long term investments that can both create and maintain the infrastructure necessary to secure Montana’s economic future. 

As Committee Chair, my job is to guide the committee work such that we are not trapped in hyper partisan D.C. style unproductive chaos, while still ensuring that every voice can be heard. So far progress has been excellent, especially given the shortened timeline.

The most controversial section of the bill is the amendment that reduces the state infrastructure match by 20% for communities that choose to maintain local COVID public health directives that are more stringent than those set by the state. The logic supporting this reduction is that communities with aggressive public health policies that continue to restrict business and reemployment are consuming significantly more state social safety net programs - benefits such as unemployment, food stamps, and welfare. Thus, these communities will not have the work force available to utilize the full amount of dollars directed to them in the time frame required by ARP.

While controversial, the combination of 453,000 administered vaccine doses and the natural immunity of those that have had COVID-19 is a solid basis for the state incentivizing communities to turn their economies and jobs back on. 

Given that this package will not become fully effective in Montana for a couple months, it is time communities focus on jobs and the economy while putting COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror.

A political impact of particular concern for my portion of the state is Biden’s executive order that Federal prisoners cannot be held in private prisons. The Federal Marshalls hold approximately 100 federal inmates in the Crossroads Correctional fa-cility near Shelby. Without this population, the facility at Shelby could become uneconomical and close. Given the tax and employment benefits that Core Civic provides our area, this would be devastating to the local economy. 

I am working with the state to find potential solutions to prevent a closure. In one such solution, the Cascade County Detention Center could hold the federal population currently housed in the Shelby facility and, in exchange, Shelby would receive the state prisoners assigned to Cascade County.  Whatever the plan, Core Civic has been a good neighbor to our communities for 20 years and they have done an outstanding job serving the corrections community.

With that, it is back to work. Thank you for allowing me to be your voice.

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