In response to the novel coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic crisis, Congress has taken uncharacteristically swift action, passing three bills that make up the three-phase federal response. You can read more about phase one and two in the Billings Chamber’s first Summary of Congress’s response. The phase three bill – the CARES Act – passed the Senate 96-0 on March 25th, passed the House by an overwhelming voice vote, and was signed by the President on March 27th. This third phase of the federal response appropriates $2 trillion to combat the economic hardships currently facing the nation, and while most of the headlines focus on the overall price tag and the provision that sends every American cash assistance, there are provisions in the bill designed to help the rural ag community that you should know about.  

How the CARES Act Impacts Farmers, Ranchers, and Rural Montana 

Thank you to Senator Steve Daines’ office for their summary of the CARES Act, which was a valuable resource to anyone wanting to find out what is in this bill. Other information below was taken from the Farm Bureau and the text of the bill.  

Agriculture economy: 

    • $133 million to USDA for ongoing inspections aimed at keeping our food supply safe 
    • $23.5 billion for farmers and ranchers 
    • Includes $9.5 billion for a new program to provide relief for livestock producers and other commodities. This money has been made available to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus by providing support for agricultural producers impacted by coronavirus, including producers of specialty crops, producers that supply local food systems, including farmers markets, restaurants, and schools, and livestock producers, including dairy producers,” through the USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC)This additional funding will allow the USDA to develop new programs to assist agricultural producers.  
    • $14 billion was also appropriated to the CCC to cover other losses, and support programs such as Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage.   

The best resource for finding out how to access these relief resources will be or your local USDA Service Center.  

Rural transportation: 

    • Provides $10 billion in formula funding for airports, $56 million for Essential Air Service to ensure rural airports and underserved routes are maintained, and $1 billion to Amtrak to ensure routes like the Empire Builder can be maintained throughout the emergency and $1 billion to Amtrak to ensure routes like the Empire Builder can be maintained throughout the emergency. 
    • Essential Air Service provides funding for Cape Air flights that connect Billings and eastern Montana 
    • Includes the Delay REAL ID Act, which delays enforcement for at least one year 

Rural Broadband and Telemedicine: 

    • $100 million expanded funding for Broadband Reconnect Pilot program under the Rural Utility Service and $25 million for Distance Learning and Telemedicine and Broadband Program. 
    • $200 million for the FCC to support telehealth deployment. 
    • Allows a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) with a health savings account (HSA) to cover telehealth services prior to a patient reaching the deductible, increasing access for patients who may have the COVID-19 virus and protecting other patients from potential exposure. 

Other Resources 

For more information on the CARES Act; Federal, State, and Local responses to the Covid-19; and resources that are available to businesses and individuals, visit the COVID-19 Resources page on the Billings Chamber of Commerce website.  

For questions regarding USDA programs and services, please reach out to your USDA County Service Center (click on your county for a list of contacts). 

For specific questions regarding the Small Business Administration, please reach out to our local representative. 

Billings Local SBA Liaison
Martin DeWitt 
(406) 459-5347