HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock announced on Thursday a new loan program to spur economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus, as applications for unemployment assistance increased in Montana for the third consecutive week.
Nearly 2,400 Montana residents submitted new applications during the week ending Aug. 29, an increase of 3% from the previous week, according to figures from the U.S. Employment and Training Administration.
Since mid-March, the state has processed more than 141,000 new claims. Nearly one-third of Montana’s workforce has been unemployed at some point during the pandemic.
The Montana Working Capital program will provide loans of up to $500,000 to businesses impacted by the virus. It will utilize funds that were originally allocated to a loan deferment program, which allowed Montana businesses to defer payments on existing loans.
Over $36 million out of an allocated $125 million were distributed to businesses through the loan deferment program, which was established in June. That leaves nearly $89 million for the new loan program.
Eligible businesses are those that have experienced a 15% reduction in gross revenue due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. The new program will cover 35% of loan amounts through approved lenders.
“We are getting money out the door to keep employees on the job, support Montana businesses, and ensure long-term stability,” Bullock said.
Bullock has faced criticism over the sluggish process of distributing the $1.25 billion given to the state through the CARES Act. Around $372 have been spent, leaving around $878 in unspent funds. Of those, the vast majority have been allocated to existing programs, but have yet to be spent.
“We continue to use our best estimates,” Bullock said, adding that program allocations were made in consultation with experts and stakeholders. “If the demand is either less or greater, (we’re) doing our best to make those adjustments.”
Health officials reported 184 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the number of confirmed cases to nearly 7,900. The number of cases reported each day has steadied but remains high.
The number of infections in Montana is thought to be far higher because not everyone has been tested and people can be infected with the respiratory virus without having symptoms.
The virus has killed at least 111 people in Montana, including 11 in the past seven days.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.
Samuels is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report.