Kalispell Rep. Steenson Calls for Quick Federal Stimulus

By Beacon Staff

Kalispell freshman Rep. Cheryl Steenson is co-authoring a joint House and Senate resolution with Dillon Republican Rep. Jeffrey Welborn asking for Congress to promptly pass an economic stimulus package. In the press release, Steenson references how hard the Flathead has been hit with job losses over the last several months. While a joint resolution isn’t the same as actual policy that might spur the local economy, there’s really not a ton the state Legislature can do until it becomes clear how big, and in what form, the federal economic stimulus will be. In the meantime, the more attention called to the Flathead economy the better right now.

From the press release:

HELENA – Montana Rep. Cheryl Steenson (D-Kalispell) said today she’s teaming with Rep. Jeffrey Welborn (R-Dillon) to introduce a joint resolution of the Montana House and Senate, urging federal lawmakers to act quickly to pass an economic recovery and jobs package to support the state’s infrastructure and put jobless Montanans to work.

Entitled “A Joint Resolution of the Senate and the House of Representatives of the State of Montana urging the United States Congress to enact legislation to create jobs and advance economic recovery,” the resolution details the challenges facing Montana industries and the people who work for them.

Steenson, a high school English teacher, said the northwest corner of the state has been especially hard-hit.

“In the last six weeks, hundreds of residents of Kalispell, Flathead County and Northwest Montana have been told their jobs are ending,” Steenson said. “Still others are being temporarily laid off.

“I know these families. They are the parents of my students and they are my neighbors. It’s heartbreaking.”

According to the most recent data from the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, the state’s unemployment rate increased slightly in November to 4.9 percent. Those numbers do not, however, include job losses announced in the last month.

Just days before Christmas, Columbia Falls Aluminum told its employees that the plant would close within the next 60 days. About 200 people were put out of work. This month, Semitool, Inc., the third-largest employer in Flathead County, laid off about 200 employees in Libby and Kalispell and reduced hours for many remaining employees. Also this month, Plum Creek Timber Company eliminated more than 140 jobs and laid off more than 200 workers.

“I was raised in a family that relied on the timber industry,” Steenson said. “I know how hard a job-loss, a seasonal job-loss or a layoff can be.”

“With the losses of jobs in timber and other extractive industries, our rural communities are hurting,” Welborn said. “Couple that with the state of our national economy and I feel that we as a legislature must remain steadfast to promote business and jobs growth while maintaining local control.”

The resolution also details the types of projects that could benefit Montanans.

“A recovery package that creates jobs and builds infrastructure is good for all Montanans,” said Speaker of the House Bob Bergren (D-Havre). “Construction projects to improve our bridges, roads, hospitals and schools will put Montanans to work in good-paying jobs.

“Our infrastructure needs the work and Montanans need – and want – to get back to work,” he said.

And Steenson said now, with state and federal lawmakers in session, is the right time for the resolution.

“This is too important for Montana to be left out or fall behind,” Steenson said.