HELENA, Mont. - Gov. Steve Bullock held a press briefing Tuesday to update Montanans on the state's efforts to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

Unemployment benefits

Gov. Bullock says the state has received approval to allow workers, who are quarantined with COVID-19 or are laid off due to COVID-19, access to unemployment benefits. Gov. Bullock said residents should apply through montanaworks.gov.

"The rules we’ve implemented today will ensure that workers impacted by COVID-19, whether it’s because they’ve been laid off, are quarantined, or need to take care of a family member, can do so without worrying about how they will make ends meet during these difficult times," Gov. 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."

The United States Department of Labor approved a request from the Montana Department of Labor & Industry to support workers financially impacted by COVID-19. The rules filed Tuesday with the Secretary of State’s Office will go into effect immediately.

The rules allow a claimant directed by their employer to leave work or not report to work due to COVID-19 to qualify as being temporarily laid off by the employer and eligible for benefits. Workers who must quarantine or who need to take care of a family member due to COVID-19 are also considered temporarily laid off and eligible for benefits.

Additionally, the emergency rules allow DLI to waive the one week waiting period before typically receiving benefits to ensure Montanans don’t experience a long gap without a paycheck.

Montana employers will also receive help through these rules. Individual claims will not be chargeable to a specific employer’s account. The rules also include a provision that could extend the time employers have to file wage reports and pay unemployment insurance contributions if the delay is related to COVID-19.

The governor says claimants are responsible for staying in contact with their employer and returning to work when they have the opportunity. Claimants are not eligible for benefits if they could work from home but choose not to.

Emergency loans for small businesses

Emergency loans for small businesses affected by COVID-19 are now available to small businesses in all Montana counties. Businesses can apply through the Small Business Administration.

"We are monitoring the impacts of coronavirus in real time – both from a public health perspective and an economic health perspective," Governor Bullock said. "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."

This week, the governor submitted Montana’s request for business assistance through the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. Access to that program has been approved.

Businesses are now eligible to apply for up to $2 million in 30-year loans with an interest rate of 3.75%. The SBA determines eligibility based on the size of the applicant, type of activity and its financial resources. Loan amounts and terms are set by the SBA and are based on each applicant’s financial condition. These working capital loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other bills that could have been paid had the disaster not occurred. The loans are not intended to replace lost sales or profits.

Businesses may now apply directly to the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program here: https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance

Motor Vehicle Division changes

Gov. Bullock said a 90-day extension will be given to people with driver licenses expiring in March, April or May.

Uninsured Montanans

Gov. Bullock announced uninsured Montanans, who have been referred by a provider to be tested for COVID-19, will be eligible to receive testing and treatment at no cost.

"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," Gov. Bullock said. "It’s going to take all of us working together to slow the spread, and that includes looking out for those who don’t have health insurance, particularly those most vulnerable."

Under the governor’s emergency authority, state funds, with potential for federal funds, will be used to pay for COVID-19 testing for Montanans without health insurance. If confirmed positive for COVID-19, funds will be used to cover treatment costs. Montanans will be required to provide a recommendation from a provider according to current CDC guidance and the state will reimburse them for that provider visit.

Medicaid, Medicare, and CHIP recipients are currently eligible for coverage for COVID-19 testing and treatment.

The governor said 204 tests are being tested at the state lab Tuesday. Those results are not yet available. Gov. Bullock says the state has received an additional 1,000 test kits from the CDC, bring the total available for the state to about 1,500. 

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