Missoulian: Targeted COVID package will reopen our economy

by Senator Jon Tester

One year into this pandemic, Montanans are finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Our vaccines are safe and effective, COVID cases are falling thanks to the tireless efforts of our frontline health care workers, and spring is on the horizon.

But even with this good news, we still have work to do before we get through the worst public health and economic crisis in generations.

Over the past year I’ve had hundreds of conversations with families, workers, doctors, educators, veterans, farmers, Tribes and small businesses from every corner of our state about the devastating effects this pandemic continues to have on Montana and our economy.

And those conversations have made clear what Montanans need to finally get this virus under control so we can fully reopen schools, get our economy booming again, and get back to our normal lives: vaccinations.

We need to be getting shots in the arms of Montanans as quickly and safely as possible. And that’s exactly what the targeted COVID relief package that the president signed into law this month does.

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I helped secure $20 billion in critical vaccine funding that will boost our vaccine supply so we make sure every Montanan who wants a shot can get one – free of charge.

These investments are already leading to positive results on the ground, including steady increases in vaccinations in Montana each week and the state’s recent announcement that all Montanans 16-years-old and up are eligible for the vaccine come April 1.

Because of this legislation, the economy in 2021 is expected to grow 6.5% – up from 4.2% in December – and our national unemployment is now projected to fall to 4.5% by the end of the year.

All of this is essential to getting folks back to work and reopening our economy as quickly as possible.

But reopening is only one piece of the puzzle.

Too many workers, towns, schools and small businesses are operating deep in the red, and I’ve heard from Montanans that we’ve got to provide targeted relief to help them get out of the hole.

That’s why I fought to include priorities Montanans told me to champion, like my legislation to restore daily long-distance Amtrak passenger service to the Hi-Line, so the farmer in Glasgow can safely and conveniently visit her parents in Seattle for the first time in more than a year.

I secured more than $1.3 billion for Montana’s state and local governments, which has allowed our mayors to keep cops, firefighters and other first responders on the beat, and $382 million for Montana’s K-12 schools, which will help make sure students in towns like Lame Deer get back in the classroom full-time as soon as possible.

And we finally made good on former President Trump’s goal of providing larger direct checks for hardworking Montanans. We also included new relief for families with children, so the Butte couple who has two kids under 6 and makes $75,000 a year will receive an additional $8,800 as well as new childcare benefits.

I’ve heard some politicians in Washington say it would have been better for Congress to sit on its hands and do nothing.

But too many Montanans have told me that they need more from their elected leaders than for us to bury our heads in the sand in the face of this crisis.

I voted for this package because it’s going to get this virus under control, get folks back to work, fully reopen schools, and create jobs.

And now that it’s been signed into law, we’ve got to make sure this relief makes it into the hands of Montanans as quickly as possible and that we exercise strict oversight over these programs so that we can root out waste, fraud, or abuse.

We are going to get through this crisis and reopen our state.

And I’m going to keep defending Montana and holding the federal government accountable on behalf of rural America.