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Gianforte announces federal aid for school virus testing
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Gianforte announces federal aid for school virus testing

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Gov. Greg Gianforte announced Wednesday the allocation of over $35 million in coronavirus relief dollars.

The Montana Legislature voted during the last session to broadly allocate roughly $2 billion the state received through the federal American Rescue Plan. Lawmakers created commissions to review funding proposals for the governor, who has final funding approval.

More than $32 million will go toward COVID-19 screening and testing in Montana schools, the governor announced.

The commission had earlier recommended $32.2 million for COVID-19 testing in schools with the stipulation that only 10% could be used before additional approval from the commission. Gianforte approved of that approach, the Montana State News Bureau previously reported, with the $3.2 million released.

Late last month the commission reviewing the school testing program recommended nearly $14.5 million be released, or 50% of the total allocation, at the urging of the Gianforte administration. His office on Wednesday said the governor accepted the commission’s recommendations and will assess whether more funding should be released.

“Moving forward, the administration will continue to evaluate school participation in the program and the potential need to seek recommendation from the Commission to spend remaining grant funds,” a spokesperson for the governor said.

Schools must spend at least 85% of the money they’re awarded directly on testing materials like kits, personal protective equipment or services such as staffing, courier contracts and more. Public and private K-12 schools are eligible, as are school-affiliated summer programs.

Of the 31 schools that responded to a state health department survey, 25 expressed interest in testing programs to varying degrees.

Fifty-four schools in the state have already received rapid COVID-19 antigen tests, and most of those schools have begun testing and reporting for their staff and students.

In other funding announcements, over $1.6 million will go toward an employment and training program that assists people supported by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program gain skills and workforce experience.

Gianforte said the funds will help SNAP recipients become self-sufficient.

Currently, the program is only available in three Montana counties: Yellowstone, Missoula and Lewis and Clark.

Gianforte also approved $1.2 million for a program that provides early intervention services for infants with significant developmental delays or disabilities.

The Montana public health department reported that enrollment in the program dropped by 48% during the coronavirus pandemic. Around 1,540 infants were served by the program in the 2020 fiscal year.

Over $300,000 will go to Montana's Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act grant to provide training and technical support to teams responding to child abuse in the state.

"Every child deserves to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment," Gianforte said in a statement. "When that doesn't occur, these funds ensure well-trained professionals are there to provide care, counseling, advocacy, and supports for the child."

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