Public Assistance Office Closures leave Many Montanans Hurting

“If the Office of Public Assistance was to close in Carbon County, it would have a devastating impact on those individuals that are already living in poverty and barely making ends meet,” Kate Croft told us. 

During the Special Session this past November, our legislature failed to consider other sources of revenue to fund important programs across the state. And as a result, programs that positively affect Montana will be cut. The main budget bill (House Bill 2), which passed on a party-line vote, will close Offices of Public Assistance with three or fewer employees.

These offices help mothers get food in front of their children. They help Montanans keep up with their Medicare or Medicaid. These offices help to make sure children are fed and clothed. And these closures would have ripple effects throughout entire counties.

We talked with Kate, the direct services coordinator for Domestic and Sexual Violence Services in Carbon County. Many DSVS clients also are clients at the Office of Public Assistance, and Kate was able to describe what a closure of Carbon Country office (located in Red Lodge) might look like for the community.

“If Carbon County does lose their Office of Public Assistance, I see more individuals not being able to keep up their Medicaid/Medicare and as a result them becoming very ill and dying.  I see this impacting the children of these client’s the most.  Their parents won’t be able to feed them (we already have plenty of starving children), clothe them, drive them anywhere, and get them necessary medical treatment because they can’t afford it.”

A closure of small towns’ Offices of Public Assistance would have devastating impacts for Montanans. Those in Carbon County who can barely make it into Red Lodge would now be faced with the monumental task of getting to Billings.

“If Carbon County loses their Office of Public Assistance office, that means that anyone in need of OPA services in this county will be faced with driving anywhere from 20 miles (down by Yellowstone/Carbon County line) to 70-some miles (areas as far out Roscoe or some over by Belfry).  If many of those individuals are already struggling to get to Red Lodge, it will be next to impossible for them to get into the Billings office.”

Carbon Country and Red Lodge won’t be the only communities affected by this cut. Chinook, Choteau, Columbus, Cut Bank, Deer Lodge, Dillon, Glendive, Malta, Red Lodge, Shelby, Sidney, Forsyth, Conrad, Big Timber, Plentywood, Fort Benton, Roundup, Thompson Falls, and Livingston will all have their Offices of Public Assistance closed under the Special Session’s budget bill.

All these communities were counting on their representatives coming up with actual solutions at the Special Session. Instead, quick bills were passed through, leaving small Montana towns behind.

Rural Montana deserved actual solutions to come from the special session. Rural Montana deserved more than a bill that shaves away at communities our legislatures are supposed to represent.

And rural Montana deserves to have Offices of Public Assistance.

-Andie Creel 

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Special thanks to Kate Croft for taking the time to talk with us.