Non-federal COVID-19 response (Office of the Governor)

Emma North-Best filed this request with the Office of the Governor of Montana .
Multi Request Non-federal COVID-19 response
Est. Completion None
Status
Fix Required

Communications

From: Emma North-Best


To Whom It May Concern:

Pursuant to the Montana Freedom of Information Act, I hereby request the following records:

Memos, emails, letters, documents, reports, recorded phone calls and virtual meetings and other media discussing or describing COVID-19 response, shutdown and stay-at-home plans and orders, quarantines, and "re-opening" plans, as well as copies of discussions of COVID-19 with CDC, White House, FEMA or similar emergency management agencies, offices of Surgeons General and similar bodies, and management of medical facilities or organizations. This request excludes unsolicited messages from the public which received no response.

I am a member of the news media and request classification as such. I have previously written about the government and its activities, with some reaching over 100,000 readers in outlets such as Gizmodo, MuckRock, Motherboard, Property of the People, Unicorn Riot, and The Outline, among others. As such, as I have a reasonable expectation of publication and my editorial and writing skills are well established. In addition, I discuss and comment on the files online and make them available through non-profits such as the library Internet Archive and the journalist non-profit MuckRock, disseminating them to a large audience. While my research is not limited to this, a great deal of it, including this, focuses on the activities and attitudes of the government itself. As such, it is not necessary for me to demonstrate the relevance of this particular subject in advance.

As my primary purpose is to inform about government activities by reporting on it and making the raw data available, I request that fees be waived.

The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.

In the event that there are fees, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 10 business days.

Sincerely,

Emma Best

From: Office of the Governor

Over the last several weeks, Montanans have faced unprecedented challenges. Our way of life has changed rapidly. Like every corner of our country, our once thriving economy is ailing.

We have lost family members and friends.

I’ve said it before and you will hear me say it again: In times of crisis, Montanans have always pulled together. And this time has been no different.

Back in March, we knew that if we did not act, there would be dire consequences. That is why on Thursday, March 12, we declared a state of emergency before there were any confirmed cases of COVID-19 here in Montana.

Just a few days later, after the first confirmed cases of the virus in the state, we made the decision to temporarily close our schools and allow for remote learning.

On March 20th, we announced the closure of higher-risk businesses, such as bars, restaurants, gyms and movie theaters.

And on March 27, Montana entered into the stay at home order before over half of the states in the country did so.

We have been aggressively managing the virus. As a result of the actions we have taken, we have among the lowest number of COVID-19 cases in the nation, and indeed of all the states, the lowest percentage of positive cases per capita when compared to our population. Montana also has the lowest number of hospitalizations, per capita, in the nation.

In short, we have flattened the curve and saved lives.

That is why this week I announced the collective actions and sacrifices of Montanans have allowed us to get to where we are, and to begin a phased reopening of the state.

While there is reason for optimism this is not a time for celebration. I am asking Montanans to continue to go to great lengths to protect one another.

Because once we begin to reopen, we want to be able to stay open.

Our personal responsibility to protect those around us – particularly those most vulnerable – remains as important now as any time during this pandemic.

Montana’s plan to reopen and my Directive are posted online HERE<https://covid19.mt.gov/Portals/223/Documents/04-22-20%20Directive%20and%20Appx%20-%20Reopening%20Phase%20One.pdf?ver=2020-04-22-124954-977> and all COVID-19 related information can be found at: https://covid19.mt.gov/. My plan includes the steps we’ll be taking starting on Sunday to reopen and includes specific guidance for businesses and others to follow to keep Montanans safe and healthy.

Montana will enter the first phase of the plan beginning Sunday. Schools will have the option to reopen beginning May 7. Mainstreet and retail businesses can open on or after April 27. Places of worship can become operational on or after April 26th. Gyms, pools, and hot tubs remain closed as do other places of assembly including movie theaters, concert halls and bowling alleys.

Additionally, we are instructing all vulnerable Montanans to continue to follow the stay at home directive.

I strongly encourage business owners to read the guidance posted on the website to make sure they can comply with new requirements lowering capacity and requiring social distancing.

We are relying on Montanans to continue vigilance in handwashing and sanitizing, staying home if sick, calling a provider to get tested if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, and minimizing non-essential travel.

Additionally, visits to Montana’s nursing homes will continue to be suspended except for certain compassionate care situations.

Our senior and assisted living facilities are among the most vulnerable places for cluster outbreaks, and while I can only imagine how hard it is for our legacy Montanans to be isolated as they have been, know that these steps are to keep them safe.

Even as we begin a phased approach to reopening, with the first steps in Phase 1 beginning this Sunday, we are not out of the woods yet with this virus.

Our new normal is going to look different. This virus isn’t gone from Montana. So, as we turn to support our main street businesses and get more families back to work during this time – as we should – we must also be sure to continue looking out for those around us and protecting everyone around us.

We will be monitoring cases closely and carefully. We need to see how this first phase works for Montana in line with our continued efforts to slow the spread of this virus.

Again this phased reopening plan and guidance for impacted businesses can be reviewed online HERE<https://covid19.mt.gov/Portals/223/Documents/04-22-20%20Directive%20and%20Appx%20-%20Reopening%20Phase%20One.pdf?ver=2020-04-22-124954-977>.

Thank you for your comments to my office about how we can continue to protect the health of all Montanans as we start to get Montanans back to work and reengaged in our economy.

We need to keep working together, keep taking care of our neighbors, and keep doing what’s best for Montana.

Sincerely,

STEVE BULLOCK
Governor

From: Office of the Governor

Ms. Best,
Thank you for contacting the Governor's Office regarding your records request.

Much of the information you're interested in is already posted on the Montana COVID-19 Task Force's website at https://covid19.mt.gov/. On the home page select "Get Latest Updates" and next go to the "Current Information" tab where the Governor's Directives and other state agencies' information are readily available.

If after reviewing these materials you still wish to make a separate records request, please respond directly to this email address.

Sincerely,

Guylaine Gelinas
Administrative Specialist
Office of the Governor
(406) 444-5553
ggelinas@mt.gov<mailto:ggelinas@mt.gov>

From: Office of the Governor

Today, I outlined our framework to ramp up testing capacity in Montana over the next several months. Our goal is to eventually conduct 60,000 tests per month and prioritize testing for vulnerable Montanans in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, tribal communities, and those with COVID-19 symptoms.

Our state public health lab’s quick turnaround time has made it possible to isolate positive cases and conduct follow-up work with local public health to quarantine individuals in contact with positive cases, this is known as “contact tracing.”

This commitment to public health and the ability to closely follow and mitigate the spread of the virus has led us to where we are today. This week so far, Montana has only added 5 new cases.

As Montana enters phase one of a gradual reopening, our work is not done.

Today, I outlined my testing framework to ramp up testing in Montana.

First and foremost, I am establishing a long-term testing target of 60,000 tests per month.

The federal government has committed to the states that it will supply 12.7 million swabs every month beginning in May. These testing supplies will be secured through public and private partnerships among the federal government, states, and private labs.

Last week, we secured 5,000 swabs from FEMA. This week, thus far we have secured 10,000 swabs from FEMA with another 7,000 expected to arrive today. Additionally, we received 3,000 swabs from the private side.

My team and I will continue working every day toward a consistent supply chain of swabs and other testing materials. Our ability to reach long-term testing targets over the coming months relies on the availability of these testing supplies.

While we work to ramp up testing to reach our long-term testing target, there are additional steps we will be taking.

• First, we are continuing to ask providers to test anyone with one or more symptoms of COVID-19.

• Second, we will be testing residents and employees in nursing homes and assisted living facilities within the next month.

• Third, beginning in May, we will conduct testing of small samples of symptomatic and asymptomatic populations in Montana’s tribal communities.

• And finally, as testing becomes more widely available, we will be partnering with Community Health Centers to test frontline workers and further conduct general population testing.

As we engage in greater testing among vulnerable populations, we have established five strike teams to help in the event we have positive tests.

Each team is made up of a certified nurse and five National Guard members who can be deployed across Montana. Beginning in May, the teams will be available to provide assistance to nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and tribal communities in the event of a COVID-9 positive test.

Furthermore, using available CARES Act dollars, I will be establishing a $5 million grant program for local public health offices.

These dollars can be used by local public health offices to help establish enhanced COVID-19 contact tracing programs.

The dollars can also be used by public health officials working with local businesses to develop plans to reopen that follow necessary physical distancing protocols.

While we work to ramp up testing capacity, recognize that this virus is and will continue to be in Montana for the foreseeable future.

As we continue to do our part at the state and in working with the federal government, Montanans must continue to do their part, too.

As Montanans begin to make their way back to socially distanced church services, as businesses begin to reopen their doors and as Montanans enjoy a locally brewed beer in the backyard with a friend or neighbor, we must continue to treat this virus with the same vigilance as before.

In addition to washing hands, maintaining social distance and sanitizing, I strongly encourage Montanans to wear a non-medical face covering when in public, especially in grocery stores or other places where social distancing isn’t practical. It is with these simple precautions during phase one that we can protect our neighbors.

As we create and begin to navigate this new normal together, we must remain flexible, vigilant and patient, because life will still be much different than it was before this virus.

I want to thank you for your continued vigilance and commitment to keeping Montana healthy and safe during this challenging time.

I also thank our hard-working frontline health care workers – our nurses, doctors, and hospital staff, our experts at the state lab, our state epidemiologists and local public health experts – for their efforts to keep Montanans safe and healthy.

Thank you for your comments to my office. It is important for me to hear from you and the needs of your community while we continue to work together to keep Montanans safe while reopening our economy.

Sincerely,

STEVE BULLOCK

Governor

From: Emma North-Best

Yes, I still wish to make the request. The website does not have numerous records that I requested.

From: Office of the Governor

Today, I announced that families, small businesses, non-profits, health services centers and individuals across Montana who are hardest-hit by the impacts of COVID-19 will be eligible for grants through nine new programs created in response to the emergency.

COVID-19 has caused unprecedented challenges and Montanans have gone to great lengths to meet those challenges. By taking this virus seriously, we all have made it possible to gradually reopen the state and work toward our new normal. Main street and retail businesses have reopened under new guidelines to keep workers and customers safe, and this week restaurants, bars, and other establishments are beginning to reopen as well.

I’m pleased that businesses are being thoughtful and creative to carefully reopen, but I understand that it will take some time to adjust. A significant portion of Montana’s workers, businesses, and economic sectors have been impacted by this emergency and need assistance now.

That’s why guided by more than 1,400 public comments and my Coronavirus Relief Fund Advisory Council, I am making $123,550,000 available for the first round of emergency grants funded through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Beginning Thursday, May 7, Montanans out of work, families with limited resources, small businesses, non-profits and others can apply for financial relief for things like rental and mortgage assistance, business and non-profit grants, grants to serve seniors and those living with a disability, food banks and local food producers.

The following new programs join the state’s suite of existing support services and direct federal programs:

* The Montana Business Stabilization Grant program will provide working capital for Montana-owned small businesses with 50 or fewer employees that have sustained a loss of revenue due to COVID 19. Current funding available is $50 million, the maximum award amount per business is $10,000.
* The Montana Innovation Grant program is intended to help companies scale up, improve capabilities, or drive expanded distribution of products or services developed in response to COVID-19. Non-profit and for-profit businesses of less than 150 employees with primary operations in Montana that have created an innovative product or service intended to directly confront the COVID-19 emergency can apply for grants of up to $25,000. Current funding available is $5 million.
* Montana Food and Agriculture Adaptability Program grants are available to food and agriculture businesses to help increase community resilience amid the COVID-19 pandemic and other economic disruptions. Examples of eligible projects include those focused on accessing new markets, projects which strengthen and expand local food systems, and other business adaptations that decrease food and agricultural waste. Current funding available is $500,000, with a maximum grant award of $10,000.
* Emergency Housing Assistance Program will provide rent, security deposit, mortgage payment, and/or hazard insurance assistance as-needed for Montanans who have lost a job or substantial income loss as a result of COVID-19. Initial payments may include up to three months assistance where the eligible household can demonstrate arrears for April and May, with continuable inability to make their June payment. Montana Housing will pay the difference between 30 percent of the household’s current gross monthly income and their eligible housing assistance costs, up to $2,000 a month. Household income limits range from $75,000-$125,000 based on family size. Montanans receiving other forms of housing assistance are not eligible. Total funding available is $50 million.
* Public Health Grants are available to local and tribal health departments and urban tribal clinics to help in the response to COVID-19 and to meet the needs of their communities. Each organization is eligible to apply for funding. Current funding available is $5 million.
* Stay Connected Grants ranging from $500-$2,000 per applicant are available to reduce social isolation among Montana’s seniors. Eligible applicants include area agencies on aging, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and tribal elder services. Grant funds can be used to fund technologies and other efforts to encourage physically distant forms of social interaction for elderly Montanans during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Current funding available is $400,000.
* Food Bank and Food Pantry Assistance of up to $50,000 per applicant are available to increase food security for Montanans hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible applicants include community organizations providing food assistance to Montanans with limited resources, food banks, food pantries, community cupboards, and entities with infrastructures already in place to begin new food distribution programs. Current funding available is $2 million.
* Social Services Nonprofit Grants of up to $10,000 per applicant are available for nonprofit organizations impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency to retain existing programs and services, employees, or organizational viability for provision of future services and operations. Eligible applicants are registered, Montana-based social service nonprofits that were operating prior to February 15, 2020. Current funding available is $10 million.
* Telework Assistance Grants of up to $1,000 per individual will go towards purchasing equipment to assist Montanans with disabilities access telework equipment. DPHHS will partner with a local non-profit organization to assess and support assistive technology needs of individuals with disabilities during COVID-19. This assistance will help ensure people with disabilities have the equipment needed to adapt to the change in working environment due to COVID-19. Current funding available is $650,000.

A comprehensive information resource and application portal is available at COVIDRelief.mt.gov<covidrelief.mt.gov>. The application portion of the website will go live at 8:00am on Thursday, May 7. To prepare for the application, businesses and non-profits should have their tax ID, proof of business registration, a brief description of how the grant will be spent, and a brief description of how COVID-19 has impacted their operations. Homeowners and renters should have bank account information available and verification of job or income loss.

Montanans have made it clear it’s imperative that we do everything possible to ensure small businesses can responsibly reopen, non-profits continue to serve our vibrant communities, homeowners can stay in their homes, and Montanans most in-need have access to services. We’re all in this together and I know Montana will emerge from this challenge even stronger than before.

As we look to deploy these dollars as quickly as possible to support Montanans and businesses alike during these times, we’re also continuing to protect the health and safety of Montanans.

The stay-at-home order bought us time to ramp up our testing capacity and make sure that we can secure additional testing supplies. It allowed us to find adequate PPE supply chains on the private side and in partnership with the federal government. We will continue to bolster our testing capacity, secure additional supplies, and ensure we are prepared.

As Montana continues on what is now a month-long decline in cases, I will again reiterate this is not the time to let our guard down. What we did to suppress the virus in Montana during the stay-at-home order worked, and as we gradually begin to reopen, we need to act much as we did under the stay-at-home order. We all must remain vigilant, keep up social distancing, diligent hand-washing, and wearing non-medical face coverings when in public, especially in grocery stores or other places where social distancing isn’t practical.

With our careful actions, we can continue to move forward in containing this virus, rather than having to take steps backwards.

Thank you for your continued commitment to keeping Montana healthy and safe during this challenging time.

Sincerely,

STEVE BULLOCK
Governor

From: Office of the Governor

Friends:

I wanted to write to you today to give an update on our state budget and how we are using our Coronavirus Relief Fund to provide much needed aid to support our local businesses and communities.

Despite the many unprecedented challenges amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Montana has remained financially resilient, providing us with the resources we need to face this year's fire season as we continue to respond to the spread of the coronavirus in Montana.

Thanks to their responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars, state agencies under my leadership finished the fiscal year under budget, allowing for an estimated $46.7 million transfer from the general fund to the fire fund. This puts the fire fund at its statutory maximum of $101.5 million, or 4% of fiscal year 2021 appropriations, for the first time in history, enough to cover nearly five average years of state wildfire suppression costs.

Additionally, the Budget Stabilization Reserve remains at its statutory maximum, which is $114.2 million or 4.5% of fiscal year appropriations. This represents the second year in a row that the Budget Stabilization Reserve has been funded to its statutory cap and it is available to sustain the budget should revenue collections or expenditures vary from projections.

The balances of the general fund, the fire fund, and the Budget Stabilization Reserve total $620 million as the 2021 fiscal year begins. While we all know a lot can change before the year is out, these are optimistic signs that we can continue to navigate these challenging times without needing to make painful cuts to the essential services Montanans rely on.

Separate from the state's budget, we received funding from the federal government to help spearhead our economic recovery. To date, we have allocated nearly 80% of the CARES Act dollars, with over $270 million of that awarded, to help Montanans, small businesses, schools, nonprofits, farmers and ranchers, and local governments and more toward economic recovery. We continue to get dollars out the door to support the small businesses and workers across the state as we work to safely reopen.

In addition, we recently doubled the funds available through our Business Stabilization Program, allowing us to distribute more money directly to the nearly 8,000 small Montana businesses who are already participating in the program and increasing the amount available to new applicants.

For additional information on current grant funding, eligibility requirements or to apply, visit https://commerce.mt.gov/Coronavirus-Relief. A transparency dashboard is available to provide information on which businesses CARES Act funding is going to, in every community of the state, at: https://commerce.mt.gov/Montana-Coronavirus-Relief/Awarded-Grants.

Thank you for everything you have done over the last five months to keep your families and communities safe. I continue to be amazed by the determination and resiliency of the people of this state.

Sincerely,

STEVE BULLOCK
Governor

From: Office of the Governor

Dear Friends:

Montana's kids are remarkable. These past few months, we have learned they are resilient, adaptable, and enthusiastic about overcoming challenges for the activities they love. I know these first days of school are much different than they were last year, but together we will get our students the education they need in a safe and healthy environment.

Lisa and I are grateful to our educators for their dedication to our children and students during this pandemic. We owe so much to everyone who has striven to provide for students' emotional, nutritional, and educational needs throughout this situation. Cafeteria staff, para-educators, custodians, and other staff have stepped up to the plate for our kids. On behalf of all Montanans, I thank you.

While no one could have predicted COVID-19 or its path, we have spent the last several years preparing our communities to be adaptable to the changing educational landscape. Our efforts to fund and bring technology into the classroom over the past years mean that students have access to the learning option that is best for them during this time - whether that's mixed instruction or full online learning.

For kids, school is more than academics. It is where they learn social and emotional skills, and where they can access mental health support. For many families, school is where kids get healthy meals, access to the internet, and other vital services. Whether a student lives on a ranch, in a tribal community, or in an urban area, education is and will continue to be our great equalizer. Even though school looks a bit different this year, I know that will continue to be the case.

Sincerely,

STEVE BULLOCK
Governor

From: Office of the Governor

Emma,

We need to discuss your records request in order to fulfill it. Your current request will result in thousands upon thousands of documents and incur significant expense. We normally avoid charging for records request if at all possible, but doing so requires identifying the records sought as narrowly as possible.

Please respond with a phone number so that I can reach you to clarify the parameters of your requested search and do my best to get you the responsive records.

Many thanks,
Rylee

Rylee Sommers-Flanagan
Deputy Legal Counsel
Governor Steve Bullock
PO Box 200801
Helena, MT 59620-0801
(406) 444-4930
rylee.sommers-flanagan@mt.gov<mailto:rylee.sommers-flanagan@mt.gov>

From: Office of the Governor

Emma,

Unless we hear from you by Monday, December 7, 2020, we will consider your request closed.

We have provided an initial answer to your request that you indicated was insufficient without further elaboration, and we have attempted to contact you, but have received no response. We are happy to work with you to produce a reasonable number of records targeting the information you seek.

My direct line is in my signature below and I am available by email at this address.

Many thanks,
Rylee

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