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The latest Montana politics, elections and Legislature news.

Montana Reports Wage Growth, Inflation Spike As Lawmakers Look To Boost Economy

Inflation and Montana's Hourly Wages
2021 Montana Labor Day Report
Inflation and Montana's Hourly Wages

Montana lawmakers focusing on economic growth during the pandemic met Wednesday and approved proposals to fund job retraining and workforce programs for people with disabilities. The state’s economic challenges are highlighted in a new report.

State lawmakers approved recommendations for how Gov. Greg Gianforte should spend millions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief aid. They also received updates on how that money is being spent so far.

Scott Eychner, director of the department of commerce, said the governor’s program to replace boosted unemployment benefits with back-to-work bonuses is off to a slow start.

“If trends don’t significantly change we will end up with a pot of money at the end of this that is not spent that will come back to this commission.”

About 775 people have received the bonuses out of more than 4,800 applications. Nearly $1 million has been paid out of a $15 million allocation. Applicants are still being considered.

Eycnher also brought new proposals to the committee for spending federal aid dollars, including using $10 million for rapid job retraining and $4 million to engage people with disabilities in the workforce. Both were approved.

Democratic Rep. Kim Abbott proposed using $3 million from unused back-to-work bonuses to train people for public works jobs as the state is spending more on infrastructure.

“We could do more to make sure that we’re putting these dollars in a place that helps those Montanans who are facing displacement, loss of job. We know it’s coming, there’s an economic transition happening. We can be out in front of it making smart investments.”

Republicans on the committee rejected the proposal.

The committee’s work follows an annual report from the state labor department giving a big-picture snapshot of Montana’s workforce conditions amid the pandemic.

The agency is highlighting the state’s high rate of business ownership, personal income growth and a rise in labor activity.

However, the report shows that inflation spiked and outpaced wage growth this summer. That, accompanied with rising housing costs and expensive child care, is a strain on Montana’s workforce and employers.