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Montana's Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester spoke in Bozeman this week about getting Montana’s economy back on track, with the driving force — and cash flow — coming from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Tester held a press conference at the Rialto theater on Wednesday to discuss the money Gallatin County and Bozeman received from ARPA — over $22 million for the county and over $12 million for the city — and how it's being put to use. Tester joined Mayor Cyndy Andrus, Rialto General Manager Matthew Beehler, Rialto partner Erik Nelson and Gallatin County Community Health Officer Lori Christenson for the conversation.

ARPA, the $1.9 trillion stimulus package signed by President Joe Biden in March, puts heavy emphasis on money being funneled toward vaccine testing, distribution and availability. The package set aside over $90 billion for vaccines.

Getting vaccines into the arms of Montanans is crucial to getting the economy back on track, Tester said.

“The bottom line is this: In order to fully reopen our economy, get folks back to work — fill up concert venues like this one — we will need to be getting vaccines into everybody’s arms as quickly as possible,” Tester said.

Just over 46% of Gallatin County residents were fully vaccinated as of July 7. Montana has a fully vaccinated rate of 47%. Both rates are well under Biden’s since-passed benchmark of 70% vaccination rate by July 4.

About 19,000 municipalities across the country are entitled to directly receive a share of the money from ARPA, unlike the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

Bozeman did receive over $5.4 million in Coronavirus Relief Funding from the state last fall. That money came from the CARES Act, but was distributed through the state to local governments.

The city already received $6.3 million of the guaranteed $12.7 million in ARPA money in June, with the second half arriving next June. Mayor Cyndy Andrus said that the money will be used to fund capacity infrastructure and recover lost revenues so services can continue operating.

Tester added that he hopes issues that weren’t covered in a $579 billion bipartisan infrastructure deal forged weeks ago in the White House — including housing and child care — would be addressed as part of a reconciliation bill when Congress reconvenes.

“I hear more about housing and child care than any other issue in the state of Montana,” Tester said. “People come up and say ‘look I’d like to go back to work but I can’t afford child care, I’d like to move to Bozeman but I can’t find a house I can afford.’”

Housing would be the main focus, but solutions would rely on discussions with local governments across Montana, Tester said.

Bozeman plans to spend $9.8 million of ARPA money on expanding water and sewer capacity to allow more areas to develop sooner with the goal of creating more opportunity for homes to be built, Andrus said.

“As one of the fastest growing communities in the country — which has been exacerbated by COVID — these funds will help us continue to manage our growth,” Andrus said. “But more importantly we will provide workers and families who actually live here the resources they need not only to survive, but to stay in Bozeman.”

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Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at amiller@dailychronicle.com or by phone at 406-582-2648.

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