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Daines hears inflation concerns at roundtable in Billings

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Posted at 10:06 PM, Apr 19, 2024

Inflation is on the rise across Montana with the average household paying $1,100 more per month for goods and services compared to just three years ago.

Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., held a community roundtable at the Evergreen Café at Ace Hardware in Billings.

Business owners and others with a sense of the economy had a chance to talk with Daines about inflation.

He's in Washington, D.C., and they all got together on a Zoom call.

Visit just about any restaurant or store and you'll hear people talking about inflation.

"Our food costs have increased by about 175 percent,” said Andrew Lockner, who owns the café with his wife. “Everything from dairy, especially meat and poultry has been a huge factor, grocery items such as fruits and vegetables."

The Lockners have owned the cafe for the past two years and have seen the cost go up significantly.

That's one reason the business played host to the roundtable discussion.

"I think some of these massive spending and tax bills contribute to what's going on with inflation," Daines said.

According to the senator's office, the consumer price index rose 3.5 percent in March, and inflation has been on the rise significantly ever since COVID.

According to the Joint Economic Committee, the average Montana household has spent $26,000 more due to inflation since January of 2021.

Breaking down the numbers even further that equates to $253 more a month on housing $141 more per month on energy costs, and $142 a month more on food.

“We estimate there's probably over 30 percent of the cattle have left the state over the last three years,” said Turk Stovall, owner of Stovall Ranches and 2nd vice-president for the Montana Stockgrowers Association. “And now we're wondering, is it going to come back?”

"We're seeing with higher interest rates, the capital expenditures by businesses, mining, agriculture, oil and gas, it's just not there,” said Scott Koch, Whitewood Transport, Inc. general manager. “So our freight numbers have shrunk."

More than one person at this roundtable also talked about how difficult it is for many to buy a house for the first time.

“And unfortunately that dream has been taken away from a large percent of the population,” said Kimberly Welzenbach, executive director and C.E.O. of the Home Builders Association of Billings.

But many are choosing to stay positive knowing the future could bring change that will not only help their businesses but their pocketbooks.

"I don't know that we're optimistic or pessimistic,” Welzenbach said about the home builders. “I think we're just riding the wave right now."

The list of participants includes:

  • Aaron Flint, Host, Montana Talks & Army Veteran
  • Brandon Witman, CEO, Yellowstone County Valley Electric Cooperative 
  • Turk Stovall, Owner, Stovall Ranches & Second Vice President, Montana Stockgrowers Association
  • Jodee Etchart, PA, Pulmonology, Billings Clinic & State Representative, HD48
  • Jason Small, Northern Cheyenne Tribal Member & Executive Secretary, Montana AFL-CIO
  • Scott Koch, General Manager, Whitewood Transport Inc.
  • Kimberly Welzenbach, CEO, Home Builders Association of Billings
  • Skip King, Owner, ACE Hardware 
  • Amanda Flann, Owner, As Much As You Knead 
  • Henry Kriegel, Deputy State Director, Americans for Prosperity – MT