The Billings Outpost

End childhood hunger here

By Minkie Medora and Lisa Lee - Montana Partnership to End Childhood Hunger

It is 6:30 a.m. and parents in many Montana homes are waking up their kids, while, preparing a simple breakfast of cereal, milk and fruit for them before they leave for school. Now imagine a home where Mom had to leave for work at 6:00 a.m., and Dad came home from work at 11:30 the night before and is trying to rest. The children need to wake themselves up, get dressed, and eat before leaving for school if there’s food and enough time.  Dinner the night before may have been pasta and sauce with a small glass of milk. That will not hold them until it is time for school lunch the next day, unless the school has a breakfast program.

This scenario is all too familiar for thousands of Montana families, including single parent families, trying to earn a living while having enough time and money to ensure that kids are properly fed. This situation plays out year round but becomes particularly challenging on weekends, school holidays or during summer when school is out because children are home, parents are working and there is little food at home. It is equally challenging for children coming home from day care to find there is no food for supper.

The Montana Partnership to End Childhood Hunger is holding a statewide summit at Montana State University in Bozeman on Sept. 23-24 to bring this issue to light and to demonstrate pathways to end child hunger. The summit will showcase best practices towards ending childhood hunger, create opportunities to meet others from their community, and provide resources to initiate public and private community action. Lori Silverbush, co-director of the film. “A Place at the Table” will be the keynote speaker and lead a discussion of the varied aspects of child hunger in the Nation.

In Montana, more than 1 in 5 children – nearly 48,000 struggle with hunger and food insecurity. Food insecurity means limited or inconsistent access to healthy and nutritious food for growing children. Hungry children come from hungry families. Income is the single largest factor in determining if a family will have enough healthy food. Studies by the Montana Food Bank Network have shown repeatedly that families feel compelled to first use their limited dollars on rent, utilities, child care, medical costs, transportation, and other fixed expenses, with little money left for food.

The impact of food insecurity in children is serious and unacceptable. Lack of good nutrition effects their growth and development from infancy on, reduces immunity, increases sick days in school, increases risk of repeated grades and lowers chances of graduation. Food insecurity affects health by increasing the risk of children developing chronic diseases and obesity. Hungry children also show multiple social and behavioral problems that in turn impact their academic success. This reduces their potential for future education or learning a trade, becoming part of the state’s workforce, and achieving economic independence as adults.

There are those who claim that poor families should pull themselves up from their bootstraps and solve their own problems. To do that, a family needs boots to begin with. This includes a living wage that can meet the growing cost of food, housing and transportation, as well as affordable health care. Parents are the first and most important providers for food for their children, but are struggling to make ends meet.

Child hunger affects not just the family, but the community and state. Children are the future workers in the state, and the ability to acquire proper knowledge and skills in the early years can have lasting benefits for our economic progress in the future. Good nutrition is a key building block in a child’s life to maximize assurance of their future. Business leaders have a critical role in assuring the vitality of our future workers.

The good news is that there is tremendous work being done in the state to end child hunger. This will be showcased at the “Build a Stronger Montana: End Childhood Hunger Summit”.  We encourage employers, faith groups, service organizations, health professionals, non-profit groups and others to attend this conference and learn about opportunities to resolve this problem in their own communities. For more information or to register for the Summit, go to

We can end child hunger in Montana but it will take the combined efforts of all sectors in the community and state to develop sustainable solutions.




Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 August 2013 16:14

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Finding homegrown solutions


Last month, Chuck Roady, vice president and general manager of F.H. Stoltz Land and Lumber Co., a family owned sawmill that has been operating in northwest Montana for more than 100 years, traveled to Washington, D.C., to share with the powers that be what its like to run a mill in Montana.

At the invitation of Rep. Steve Daines, Roady spoke to the House Natural Resources Committee about the web of lawsuits that too often ensnare federal timber sales.  He called it, with good reason, “endless litigation.”

Roady reminded the lawmakers that lawsuits have forced the Forest Service to spend as much as $350 million a year on “timber sale analysis.”   That’s tax money that could be productively spent on the ground, on projects that create lunch-bucket jobs, improve forest health, and reduce the threat of increasingly deadly and destructive fires.

Before we Montanans hold our collective breath waiting for Congress to cut the web and ax the analysis, we might take heart by looking closer to home.  Here in Montana, some forward-thinking people have simply gone ahead and taken the responsibility of finding homegrown solutions to resource issues.

Local folks have been talking to one another in community based “collaboratives,” without the lawyers in the room.  According to Gordy Sanders of Pyramid Lumber Co in Seeley Lake Montana, “By talking, we’ve learned that many things that people and groups want from the forest aren’t mutually exclusive.”

Sanders and his collaborative partnership put together the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Project, which is a ground-up agreement to cooperate on everything from wood products and wildfires to weeds, wildlife and wilderness.  Eventually, they were so successful that their recommendations were included in the federal legislation sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester known as the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (FJRA).  Tester’s entire bill, in fact, was largely stitched together by local stakeholders who no doubt agree and disagree on many things, but nevertheless effectively worked together in the western spirit on behalf of their communities. 

FJRA grew from local efforts way up in the remote Yaak River valley in extreme northwestern Montana, as well as on a larger scale in the Blackfoot-Clearwater portions of the Lolo National Forest, and the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.  It prescribes both wilderness and timber harvest, and safeguards the values of clean water, fishing and hunting.  It has also created a genuine relationship of trust and respect between potential litigants who turned out to be partners. 

A similar collaborative effort on the Rocky Mountain Front has resulted in the Heritage Act introduced by Sen. Max Baucus.

Collaborative efforts are hard work.  Compromise is painful.  Die-hard obstructionists on the extremes of the political spectrum despise the process of collaborative bargaining.  They survive by driving wedges.  But the common folks in the work boots and hiking boots are frequently the same folks, and more and more they are coming to realize that.

Local agreements are meaningless, though, if they don’t have support from the same lawmakers Chuck Roady went to plead his case before in our nation’s capitol.   Fortunately, now, there is real reason for optimism.

When Rep. Daines recently signed on to a locally driven bill along with Sens. Baucus and Tester that protects an area bordering Glacier National Park, it marked the first time in more than a quarter of a century that Montana’s whole Congressional delegation has joined in bipartisan support of conservation legislation.  They’ve shown they can pick the gridlock.    Certainly they still disagree on many important matters, but following the lead of the people, they’re realizing that on resource issues there is common ground. 


Bob Brown is a former Montana secretary of state and state Senate president.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 August 2013 16:14

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Why should legislators get free insurance?



I have served nine sessions in the Montana Legislature, and it’s a real honor to represent my constituents and serve Montanans. As citizen legislators serving in a part-time capacity, we are able to stay in close contact with those we represent.

Over the years, in both my legislative and business interactions, one issue continues to rise above all others: access to affordable healthcare. Those who have health insurance complain about rising healthcare and insurance costs; those without it forgo routine, preventive medical care because they cannot afford either health insurance or the medical care itself and, too often, relatively minor medical issues quickly mushroom into major complications.

In the end, those of us fortunate enough to have health insurance, including a majority of my legislative colleagues, all pay a huge, hidden cost each year to pay for those who require medical attention but cannot afford it.  This hidden cost is “uncompensated care” for which no payment, or only partial payment is received.

Each year in Montana, hospitals alone shift approximately $350 million in uncompensated care costs onto those of us with health insurance.

The result of uncompensated care? An increase in health insurance premiums. In my book, that’s the same as a tax increase. A hidden one.

During the recently concluded 2013 legislative session, legislators had two proposals that would have begun to address the challenge posed by 200,000 Montanans without health insurance. House Bill 590 and Senate Bill 395 both proposed to expand Medicaid by using federal funds and thus ensuring 70,000 of our less fortunate neighbors have access to healthcare. While insuring more Montanans, both measures proposed fundamental reforms and cost-containment measures to the Medicaid program.

When the Republican majority in the House of Representative balked at these ideas, a group of us, Democrats and Republicans alike, rolled up our sleeves and designed a “Made in Montana” solution. House Bill 623 was amended by the Senate to authorize the use of federal Medicaid monies to pay for health insurance premiums for 70,000 eligible Montanans on the private market.

The House Republican majority rejected this solution as well. It closed the door on low-income, hardworking Montanans and turned away nearly $1.5 billion in federal funding to cover 100 percent of the costs for our uninsured neighbors for the first three years. Unlike the Senate, the full House of Representatives never once discussed the challenging issue of providing health coverage.

And, so, the 2013 Legislature adjourned without doing anything to increase health insurance coverage. Nada. Nothing.

And, here is the tragic truth: Over 140 of the 150 legislators either avail themselves of taxpayer-funded state employee health insurance or take the same monthly payment ($733) and use it to offset the cost of their own private health insurance.

And, guess what? Legislators begin receiving health insurance the day they are sworn in, unlike many Montanans who wait a month or more before receiving employer-supported health insurance. Also, unlike many Montanans, legislators do not contribute to the health insurance premium for health insurance; the entire cost is paid by Montana taxpayers.

That amounts to $8,800 per year per legislator. That’s $1.23 million a year or nearly $2.5 million for two years. Not bad, considering that the Montana Constitution limits us to 90 days of work every other year – we worked 87 days this year.

And, yes, there are other responsibilities like committee work and periodic constituent services between sessions. But, at most, the number of days actually worked amounts to no more than 120 days over a two-year period.

So, for working the equivalent of 120 days over two years, legislators receive full health insurance coverage, paid for by Montana taxpayers.  The cruel irony is that many of the 70,000 Montanans who were denied health insurance coverage by a majority of Republicans, actually pay for the cost of the “deniers” health insurance.

My colleagues, who opposed providing access to healthcare for Montanans, should be asked to explain why they should continue to receive taxpayer-financed health insurance unless they are willing engage in a meaningful discussion regarding how we are going to provide access to healthcare in a cost-effective and efficient manner.

Dave Wanzenried represents Senate District 49 in Missoula.


Last Updated on Thursday, 11 July 2013 14:58

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Perils of judging barbecue

By DAVID CRISP - The Billings Outpost

I grew up in South Texas, so I was eating barbecue practically before my first teeth came in. I have a brother-in-law in the barbecue business. I have learned to turn out a pretty mean brisket on the Weber grill in the backyard.

So when I was invited to judge the Montana BBQ Cook-Off in Absarokee last year, I went into it with no humility to spare. Boy, was that a mistake.  The humbling Cook-Off goes on again this Sunday, June 7, in downtown Absarokee. You can find details in the Calendar of Events.

That’s the fun part. The humbling part started with a day of serious (and delicious) training to learn proper judging standards and etiquette. Barbecue contestants are required to abide by strict rules governing servings and presentation. Judges try to keep their minds open and their palates clear, paying careful attention to certain aspects and ignoring others, such as the familiar red tinge around the edges of a piece of barbecue, which contestants can fake.

Judges also are expected to avoid alcohol while judging, an easy enough admonition on training day, but a much tougher requirement during competitive judging. But the actual judging is even tougher. The contestants, by and large, really know their stuff. I’m not sure whether calling barbecue a religion demeans religion or demeans barbecue.

The difference between a champion barbecue and a chopped beef sandwich is a matter about which both reasonable and unreasonable people can disagree. Even samples from the same contestant can vary widely: one might be dry and tough, another succulent.

Sorting all of that out is hard work, after all, and largely anonymous. It’s also unpaid, except that judges get to keep uneaten samples they are given.

The samples add up. After last year’s judging, I walked around to the various barbecue pits to see if I could tell the winners from the losers. But I quickly found that my interest in barbecue had vanished for the day. So we sipped cool liquids on a burning hot summer day, checked out the vendors and watched lucky victims get a soaking in the dunking booth.

It was a good time, and we will be heading back on Sunday. See you there.


Last Updated on Thursday, 04 July 2013 11:02

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Time to get serious about use of assault rifles



My birding buddy and I were out looking for bluebirds recently, high up in the hills above the Yellowstone. We passed a father and his elementary age son practicing with a rifle. Isn’t that nice, I thought. A Montana tradition, out shooting prairie dogs.

We drove on, then decided we were too far from any cedars or pines to find our birds and turned around. This time, I saw the rifle: not a .22, but an assault rifle with a banana clip in place.

I was appalled. But hey, I’m one of those disgusting liberals. Right? Right? (Or maybe I should say left, left.) So I checked with two of my right-wing friends. They, too, were horrified.

“My grandson hunts,” said my friend Kathy, who grew up on a ranch in Stillwater County. At 14, she said that her grandson was too young for an assault rifle. “That’s something for someone military age.”

My friend Vickie can handle any firearms, hunts and shoots at the range. She, too, wondered who in their right mind would teach an elementary kid to shoot an assault rifle. Is this boy another Adam Lanza in training? Lanza’s mom thought that gun training was a great idea as well. She was the first person he shot.

So, every adult gets an assault rifle. With very large clips. But what would this boy do with his training? At the age of 11 or 12, wrest a gun out of the hands of an insane killer?

And does the right to bear arms include an arsenal, not just various kinds of rifles? That would mean that our neighborhood white supremacists, just north of Shepherd, should be able to stash whatever they want. (You’ll be happy to know that, according to one of them, Adolph Hitler was the greatest military strategist of all time. Guess it doesn’t count that his own generals tried to assassinate him and he lost the war.)

Which just goes to show you. We Montanans are special, tough, AND we’ve also been home to the largest gathering of the KKK, at Antelope Flats outside of Molt in the 1920s, the Unabomber, the Freemen and more than one white hate group. We also have the highest suicide rate in the United States.

And now everyone’s out buying up assault rifles and ammo. It’s really ludicrous, about an eighth-grade mentality, to think that, first, the federal government would find an assault rifle a threat and second, that a band of rebels armed with guns could hold off America’s Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

For all of you concerned for your Second Amendment rights, where were you when the Patriot Act was passed and then renewed? That act included roving wiretaps, searches of business records, and gave more power to what was then the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The INS, here in Billings, went to the Rev. John Naumann’s house after 9 p.m. and arrested his African student boarder who was attending Rocky Mountain College and sent him to prison in Arizona.

Think, think, think. The Senate is now putting all its energy into the gun issue, with Republican senators preferring to filibuster rather than pass even the most modest of gun reforms.

How many unlisted guns do you already own? How many can you fire at one time? Let’s get on with our national life.


Sharie Pyke lives in Billings.


Last Updated on Thursday, 04 July 2013 11:01

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