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Montana businesses receive $1.7B from federal rescue package

by Iris Samuels
| July 7, 2020 12:46 PM

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — More than 23,000 businesses and nonprofit organizations in Montana received loans from a federal rescue package meant to keep small businesses afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, totaling over $1.7 billion, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Treasury.

The recipients come from various industries, nonprofits, colleges, health care facilities and tribal entities. At least 73 Montana organizations received between $2 million and $5 million, including the luxury resort Paws Up Ranch, firefighter aviators Neptune Aviation Services, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Some loans went to businesses owned by political figures in the state. Don Kaltschmidt, the chairman of the Montana Republican Party, received a loan between $1 million and $2 million for his car dealership, Don. K Chevrolet Inc. in Whitefish.

“Just like many businesses across Montana, I applied for a PPP loan to keep my business open and over 100 Montanans on the payroll to provide for their families during this pandemic," Kaltschmidt said in a statement.

Montana State Senator Llew Jones, R-Conrad, is a minority owner of Frontline Ag Solutions LLC, an agricultural equipment dealership that received a loan between $2 million and $5 million.

Jones estimated the business has 250 employees, all of whom kept their jobs as the pandemic brought the agricultural industry in the state to a halt. He said that stopping short of applying for the loan because of his political role would be unfair to his partners and employees.

“For me to suggest that all of my partners and all of my employees should be specially punished because I choose to serve in the legislature would have been very egregious on my part,” he said.

The public may never know the identity of more than 80% of the nearly 5 million beneficiaries to date nationwide because the administration has refused to release details on loans under $150,000. That secrecy spurred a lawsuit by news organizations, including The Associated Press.

Still, the release of the data is the most complete look at the program’s recipients so far, including 2,196 Montana businesses that received loans greater than $150,000.

Under the Paycheck Protection Program, Congress created $659 billion in low-interest loans that will be forgiven if employers use the money on payroll, rent and similar expenses. With about $130 billion unclaimed as the application deadline closed June 30, Congress extended the program until Aug. 8.

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Iris Samuels is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.