Montana Officials Direct Federal Funds To State Health Programs

Montana officials are recommending that $22 million in federal stimulus money go toward disability services, COVID-19 screening at schools and programs to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

The advisory committee approved five recommendations brought by the state health department outlining how Montana should spend the federal money on public health.

Some Republicans on the committee opposed directing $5 million to strengthen STD prevention at local health departments over the next five years. Rep. Matt Regier says adding federal money to the program now could obligate future state funds.

“This is a program that I can see in five years the conversation being, ‘how do we keep funding this.’”

Mike Foster, who’s directing Montana’s federal spending process, acknowledged Regier’s concern, but says the goal is to get on top of the problem now and save money in the future.

“There apparently is a serious STD — call it a crisis — that is occurring in Montana at this time,” Foster says.

According to the state health department, transmission rates of STDs have been on the rise over the last decade in Montana, which follows a national trend.

The committee also approved earmarking $14 million to help schools test and screen for COVID-19 when they’re back in session this fall. The state’s food assistance program will get about $1.6 million for administration purposes. And about $1.2 million will go to an early intervention program for young kids with severe developmental delays or disabilities.

Gov. Greg Gianforte has the final say on whether the spending proposals are carried out.

Foster says the state has received about half of the $900 million in discretionary funds it’s set to get from the federal government. He says he’s not sure how to proceed.

“We do want to march forward and get this money allocated out to the deserving folks, entities, but at the same time, we can’t over-obligate or then we’ll be in a big financial problem.”

Foster says the state has asked the U.S. Treasury if the rest of the money can be allocated before it arrives next spring, but has not yet heard back.