April 23, 2020: Navigating the impacts of COVID-19

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I wanted to take some time in this week to speak directly to those of you struggling with the unemployment process and to those of you on the frontlines of our COVID-19 response.

To those having trouble navigating unemployment: I want you to know the gravity of the situation is not lost on me. I know many of you have been encountering system errors, some have been waiting on application approval and others are waiting on eligibility to be extended to self-employed workers. At a time when many people are worried they won’t be able to afford groceries, I know this waiting is incredibly difficult. If you are in a vulnerable financial situation, here is a list of resources to help you navigate food security, health care coverage, general assistance and more.

I do want to assure you that the Maine Department of Labor (MDOL) is working in overdrive to address the unprecedented number of claims they’ve received over the past month. They have hired 100 new employees to cover the phones and they are working to get money out to all who need it as soon as possible. Whenever your application is approved, you will receive retroactive payments. For those of you already receiving unemployment benefits, you should now see an extra $600 on your weekly benefit. That is from the federal stimulus package. For those of you waiting for expanded eligibility, MDOL hopes to be ready to take your applications soon. I will notify you when eligibility has been expanded, and you can also stay up-to-date by monitoring the MDOL website.

To our frontline workers: Whether you are a health care worker taking care of our sick each day, a law enforcement officer keeping us safe or anyone else directly responding to the pandemic in Maine, I thank you, and I recognize the additional stress being placed on you at this time. I want to share that the Mills Administration has announced the FrontLine Warmline, a phone line that will help callers to deal with anxiety, irritability, stress, grief or worry and, if needed, connect you with additional supports. The line is staffed by volunteer professionals, including licensed psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, social workers and nurse practitioners. The FrontLine Warmline is available to clinicians and first responders from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week by calling (207) 221-8196 or 866-367-4440.

One item I want to share with everyone is my recent op-ed in the Bangor Daily News outlining why we need to greatly increase capacity for testing in order to turn the economic corner. I hope you’ll take a moment to read through it.

Finally, I know this pandemic is difficult for everyone, and that all of us have been impacted in major ways. If there is anything I can do to help you manage all that is happening, please reach out. You can reach me by phone and email, and I will do my best to get you the answers and support you need.


FREQUENTLY USED RESOURCES

I’d like to again share resources to help with the most common COVID-19 problems Mainers are facing:

  • A statewide COVID-19 response website that includes a directory of how each Maine agency is responding, as well as resources for health care, small businesses, education, family care and more.
  • A COVID-19 Rent Relief Program which allows households that meet certain criteria to receive a one-time, up to $500 payment in rental assistance to be paid directly to their landlord.
  • A Maine Department of Labor factsheet and COVID-19 webpage to help navigate unemployment insurance benefits. 
  • A compilation of resources, updates and help created by Maine Equal Justice for Mainers trying to manage health care, food security, evictions, court proceedings and other issues during this time.
  • The website for small businesses to apply for Economic Injury Disaster Loans through the US Small Business Administration.
  • Detailed information on the FAME COVID-19 Consumer Loan Guarantee Program offering low-or-no interest loans to qualifying applicants.
  • An online application for businesses that believe they should be classified as essential under Gov. Mills’ March 24 Executive Order.
  • A resource to get answers any time by dialing 211 (or 1-866-811-5695), texting your ZIP code to 898-211 or emailing info@211maine.org.

LOCAL RESOURCES 


HOUSING PROTECTION

Gov. Mills has signed an executive order to protect Maine people at risk of losing their housing as a result of COVID-19. The order prevents the immediate eviction of tenants other than those who engage in dangerous or unlawful conduct, and it strengthens the penalties for landlords who may try to evict tenants by unlawful means. Additionally, the Governor, in partnership with MaineHousing, announced a new rent relief program for Maine people who cannot pay their rent due to COVID-19. The $5 million COVID-19 Rent Relief Program will allow households that meet certain criteria to receive a one-time, up to $500 payment in rental assistance to be paid directly to their landlord. The Governor also urged all financial institutions to work proactively with Maine homeowners and small businesses experiencing financial hardship from COVID-19 to help keep them in their homes and storefronts.


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