During the 2021 legislative session, our legislators worked to find bipartisan solutions to some of Montana’s most challenging issues. Problems with no silver-bullet solutions, like increasing access to affordable child care, housing that everyday Montanans can afford, and food security — something as basic as knowing where your next meal might come from. One in 10 Montanans lives in a food insecure household, including 35,500 children.
Double SNAP Dollars is a nutrition program that stretches the dollars of SNAP customers to increase access to locally grown fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and other participating sites. The program has demonstrated positive health impacts for participants, while providing financial resources to local farmers.
This legislative session, champions of local farmers and anti-hunger advocates worked hard on a bill that would have expanded Montana’s Double SNAP Dollars program. Legislators worked across the aisle to pass a good bill that made it all the way to the governor’s desk. This bill, House Bill 235, sponsored by Republican Rep. Tom Welch of Dillon, would have provided a small amount of state money to strengthen our existing program. This investment would have allowed Montana’s Double SNAP Dollars program to expand to additional farmers markets and communities.
It is a shame that this good work to support families and benefit farmers was thrown away with a veto by Gov. Greg Gianforte.
Double SNAP Dollars was not the only bill that our governor vetoed, making life harder for Montanans already struggling to make ends meet. He also vetoed a child care taskforce bill — a bipartisan effort to tackle the crisis that low- and-middle-income families face when trying to find safe, affordable care for their children. Additionally, the governor vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have created a state workforce housing tax credit, incentivizing development of homes Montanans can afford. We urge the legislature to take advantage of their ability to override the housing tax credit veto, an option currently under consideration.
We can all understand the need to balance a budget and prioritize spending where it is most needed. But the costs associated with these projects were minimal and would have contributed towards long-term solutions for Montanans. HB 235, for example, allocated only $95,000 over two years to support the Double SNAP Dollars program. This is a miniscule drop in the budget bucket — and all of it would have been reinvested in local food systems and economies.
At the same time that the governor vetoed these bills supporting everyday Montanans, he signed a number of bills to reduce taxes, primarily for our state’s highest-income households. These tax cuts will result in a significant loss of revenue for our state that could have supported efforts like food security, affordable housing and child care. That low- and middle-income Montanans will likely carry the burden created by these tax cuts is disheartening and immoral. Imagine being willing to offer a tax break to the highest income Montanans but begrudging a low-income family an extra $20 in fruits and vegetables.
Given the divided nature of our political world, we were heartened by the elected officials who did come together across the aisle to accomplish good things on behalf of Montanans. But we are disappointed that many of these efforts were for naught. These bills did not die on lack of merit, but because of our governor’s disconnection with the challenges and realities facing Montanans who are working hard to make ends meet. What a shame.
Lorianne Burhop is chief policy officer for the Montana Food Bank Network. Amanda Cahill is vice chair of the Montana Food Policy Council. Aaron Brock is executive director of the Missoula Food Bank & Community Center.