Montana COVID-19 State Update for Massage Therapists

There have been many changes in the massage therapy and cosmetology professions and communities in response to COVID-19 (coronavirus). ABMP, ASCP, AHP, and ANP have summarized below how COVID-19 has impacted Montana, from executive orders affecting business closures, to reopening protocols modifying practice procedures, to financial programs developed to aid the unemployed.

Practice Restrictions and Reopening 

Montana Governor Steve Bullock announced on March 26, 2020, an Executive Order declaring a state of emergency. The order provided measures to stay at home and implemented social distancing protocols to protect the health and economic well-being of all Montanans to prevent the spread of disease. Nonessential businesses, such as spas, salons, barber shops, and similar facilities, closed operations for the duration of the stay-at-home order.

On April 22, 2020, Governor Bullock announced an Executive Order providing guidance for the phased reopening of the state of Montana and establishing conditions for Phase One. Per the order, salons and massage fall under "personal care services." Phase One offers strict reopening guidelines for personal care service providers on page 18 of the linked document.

ABMP, ASCP, AHP, and ANP update members daily regarding state orders, practice prohibition, and reopening processes. View Montana updates here for massage therapists and here for estheticians and cosmetologists. The most current information regarding COVID-19 and what is happening in Montana can be found on the Governor's Coronavirus Task Force website. Please check with your local city or county to see if they have reopening orders stricter than Montana state orders. Your liability insurance policy is only valid if you are in compliance with your state's regulations. If you are no longer authorized to work per regional orders, you are likely not in compliance with your state or local regulations and therefore your insurance would not be valid.

Practice Modifications and Protocol Guidelines

ABMP, ASCP, AHP, and ANP understand there is a fine line between getting back to work and earning an income and protecting the safety of you and your clients. Government permission to work should not be the sole factor in your decision to return to practice. For those members planning to get back to work or seriously contemplating doing so, what follows is a hierarchy of ideas and precautions we strongly encourage you to consider for yourself, your practice, and your clients. With the state of Montana easing its restrictions on the stay-at-home order, many members are seeking advice as they prepare to return to work, and there are many unknowns: Will my clients rebook? Will they feel safe? Where can I go for guidance?

For those reopening their businesses, we have assembled a comprehensive series of back-to-practice guidelines packed with ideas and precautions. We encourage you to start with the summary here for massage therapistshere for estheticians, and here for cosmetologists, which provides a good synopsis. We address how to prepare and sanitize your treatment rooms, safe client-practitioner interaction, in-session protection protocols, post-session sanitation and best practices, and business tips from marketing to cancellation policies. We hope the guidelines prove to be informative and helpful, and that they lessen the uneasiness during this uncertain time.

Schools 

Per the April 22, 2020, Executive Order, schools are also allowed to reopen. The Governor suggests a mix of distance and in-class learning in addition to altering the number of students in a school at any given time. There is guidance for what this looks like in the Executive Order. 

Economic Assistance 

Whether you plan to return to work or not, we encourage you to review the financial benefit packages outlined below. Unemployment benefits are retroactive, so you may be eligible for financial assistance if you were out of work during the stay-at-home order and are returning to work. And, although Montana has begun a gradual reopening process, you may still be eligible for unemployment benefits if you are unable to work due to risk of exposure to COVID-19 and do not yet wish to return to practice.

Montana allows for unemployment benefits up to a maximum of $510 per week; however, not everyone will qualify for this amount. In addition, the federal government will be issuing $600 per week via the CARES Act, retroactive to March 29, 2020, through July 31, 2020. Benefits have been expanded in Montana to 39 weeks.

Montana is offering the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, which provides payment to workers not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits (self-employed, gig workers, 1099 independent contractors, workers with limited work history, and others) who are unable to work as a direct result of the coronavirus public health emergency. Typically, these individuals must be determined ineligible for regular state unemployment benefits before being evaluated for PUA benefits. Essentially, if you were paid as an employee at a job and earned more than $2,500 in that position since January 1, 2019, your unemployment will be based on that job. PUA only applies if you have no W-2 employment. You can begin the application process at the Montana Department of Labor & Industry website. PUA benefits are equal to half of the state's average weekly unemployment benefits. For example, if you were eligible to receive $300 per week under regular unemployment, your PUA benefits would be $150 per week. 

Also available are two Small Business Administration (SBA) loans and programs: the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan and Loan Advance (EIDL). As of April 16, 2020, funding for both programs was depleted, but has since been refunded. The application process for both programs reopened April 27, 2020. Now is the time to apply for either program: assemble the required paperwork and contact a potential bank or lender (also consider some credit unions, PayPal, Quicken, Intuit, or Square) as soon as possible. We have heard that there are already so many applications in the pipeline that funds are expected to be depleted soon.

One reminder: The onboarding of all programs has proven to be much slower than was initially thought, and there have been glitches in almost every federal and state program. The overwhelming number of applicants and government agencies that are coming up with new processes are slowing systems down that were not ready for the volume of people contacting them.

In addition, many states' economic development programs or small business programs have additional loans and assistance available locally—research what you have in your state by searching online for these programs. Find out more about your financial assistance programs, tax credits, tax deadline extensions, health insurance options, and Medicaid in ABMP's Financial Benefits Update blog post.

We appreciate your membership. Stay safe and well.

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