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A new program for Montana businesses will use federal money to pay for a portion of a new loan that can be used for payroll, rent and employee benefits.

The Montana working capital program will pay 35% of a new loan up to $500,000 for businesses that have experienced a reduction in revenue because of coronavirus.

If approved, a borrower would be on the hook to pay the remaining 65% of a loan. An approved borrower getting the max loan of $500,000, for example, would be responsible for making payments on the remaining $325,000.

Gov. Steve Bullock announced the new program Thursday at a press conference that was livestreamed on Facebook. Bullock said borrowers could start applying for the program at banks and credit unions Tuesday.

The money for the program comes from $1.25 billion doled out to the state through the CARES Act. Bullock said the state has used nearly $1 billion of that money.

He said the program “builds off” the loan deferment program, which allows qualified businesses to defer payments on existing loans for up to a year, to support business that may not already have a loan.

“I really want to underscore the appreciation and the efforts of our banks and credit unions across the state in being a partner in getting this money out to businesses that need it,” Bullock said.

Bullock also talked about coronavirus outbreaks in jails, small counties and nursing home facilities. He fielded questions from reporters about testing capacity for the virus, meeting vaccine needs for the impending flu season and a recent lawsuit against the state over counties choosing to conduct the November election by mail.

Bullock said over the last four weeks, the state has performed 73,856 tests for the virus, exceeding a goal of 60,000 per month. He said he’d like to see more “saturation testing” to get a better sense of what the virus might be doing and that he’ll continue to work with local officials to ensure testing is sufficient.

“From a turnaround perspective and a capacity perspective, I’m confident that we have what we need in Montana to meet those needs,” he said.

Jim Murphy, with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, said he is anticipating a higher demand for the flu vaccine this fall. He said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doled out more adult vaccines to Montana to help meet that demand.

Murphy said the biggest challenge would likely be local health departments trying to distribute flu vaccinations while also dealing with the coronavirus. He said he’s optimistic and that the state is working with pharmacies and community health partners that are “going to step up in a big way.”

“If we can keep people from suffering influenza and we could keep people with influenza out of the medical system, that’s going to free up resources that we might need to respond to COVID,” he said.

Bullock also responded to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign meant to block an all-mail ballot election in November. Trump along with the state and national Republican Party sued the Democratic governor, alleging his directive would dilute the integrity of Montana’s election system.

Bullock said the governor’s office left the decision about whether to hold all-mail elections in the hands of local authorities. He said 43 counties have chosen to hold elections by mail, the same way they did in June, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Bullock called the lawsuit a “political stunt” and said “essentially we have Washington outsiders try to come in and take away that local control and interfere in our elections.”

“I think that most folks in Montana recognized just how absurd that really is,” he said.

Friday is the deadline for counties to say whether they’ll hold all-mail elections.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.