Now that we are in the first stage of Gov. Mills’ plan to restart the economy, many businesses that were allowed to reopen on May 1 have been hard at work updating their establishments to adhere to public health protocols. Of course, many workers and business owners still have questions about the state’s reopening timeline, and I’ve provided more insight below on how this plan may evolve.
Today we received some additional news when Governor Mills announced a rural reopening plan for the twelve Maine counties where community transmission is not present. Hancock County is among the counties included in this rural reopening plan, which allows certain retail and restaurant businesses to open this month with specific safeguards. The Governor stressed that Maine people must continue to take public health precautions against the virus, such as wearing face coverings, physical distancing, and handwashing. I will keep you updated as we learn more about these reopening plans and the health requirements that business will be required to follow.
I am honored to be appointed by Speaker Gideon to serve on Governor Mills’ expert advisory committee which is immediately charged with developing a plan to jumpstart long-term economic recovery for the state.
As this pandemic unfolds and hardships compound for Maine families and small businesses, we urgently need to be moving a clear-headed economic plan that gives confidence and hope to citizens across our state. I look forward to engaging this effort directly.
For those of you who remain unemployed, I know the backlog of unemployment benefits has placed undue financial stress on many families in our community. This week the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee convened a briefing to hear from Maine Department of Labor (MDOL) Commissioner Fortman about what is causing the backlog and to understand the steps being taken to improve the system. We know MDOL has taken actions to better manage the immense number of claims coming in, including hiring 100 new people to take calls, but we will continue to advocate for our constituents and improvements to the systems to get Mainers the support they need.
As always, please know I am here to answer questions and to connect you with the resources you need to get through this crisis.
INFLUENCE THE STATE’S REOPENING PLAN
All of us are worried about the toll our COVID-19 response is taking on our economy. In hopes of getting people back to work while balancing public health, last week Gov. Mills announced a four stage plan to reopen Maine’s economy, where more and more kinds of businesses will be allowed to open each month. Many businesses are understandably concerned about where they fall in this timeline, and it is important to note that the plan to reopen Maine’s economy is not set in stone.
Gov. Mills has stressed that as the public health situation changes and as we develop better solutions for the economy, the timeline could be shortened or extended. As part of that, the Department of Economic and Community Development, which is leading the plan to restart Maine’s economy, has opened an online portal for Mainers to submit their ideas for how to improve our reopening plan. Businesses can also make a case for why they and their industry should be reopened earlier.
The Governor has also convened an economic recovery committee that has 37 members representing business and community leaders, workers and lawmakers who will report back on the economic impacts of the pandemic and make policy recommendations. This feedback along with continued consultation with medical experts and business leaders will help shift the plan into a strategy that works for as many Mainers as possible.
NEW PARTNERSHIP WITH IDEXX
This week, Gov. Mills made an announcement that will allow for a major expansion of our testing capabilities. The Administration has partnered with Maine-based IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. to purchase enough of the company’s recently authorized COVID-19 testing kits to more than triple the State’s testing capacity. The breakthrough will soon allow anyone in Maine suspected of having COVID-19 to receive a test. This type of public-private collaboration is welcome news for all of us and is crucial to reopening our economy safely.
APPLYING FOR UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS
If your workplace was temporarily closed or you are taking an unpaid leave of absence due to the pandemic, you may be eligible for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits. As of May 1, self-employed workers, farmers and fishermen, independent contractors, gig economy workers and more are now able to apply for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
The best way to apply is online at reemployme.maine.gov. You can also file over the phone at 1-800-593-7660 between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. To help manage the many claims coming in, MDOL is requesting claimants follow an alphabetical-by-last-name call schedule (people with last names beginning with A-H on Mondays; I-Q on Tuesdays; R-Z on Wednesdays and anyone on Thursdays and Fridays).
SUPPORT FOR PARENTS
For all of the parents balancing additional duties and trying to maintain a healthy and fulfilling home environment, I wanted to share a few resources:
- The Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future has provided resources on how to talk to your children about COVID-19, cope with stress and anxiety, and fun activities to help your family stay busy at home. Click here to visit their website.
- The Department of Education has put together a detailed website with support and suggestions for parents who are homeschooling their children during this time of distance learning.
- For parents struggling with childcare right now, the Department of Health and Human Services has identified a number of categories of licensed child care providers who can continue providing care and that have openings. You can find that list here. You can also see if you’re eligible for child care subsidies at this link.
- If your ability to work has been impacted because you are the primary caregiver for a child unable to attend school due to COVID-19, you may now be eligible for unemployment benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Learn more here.
FREQUENTLY USED RESOURCES
As always, here is an updated set of 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 website outlining Maine’s approach to restarting the economy.
- An online application for businesses who want to be considered for reopening eligibility under an earlier stage.
- A COVID-19 Rental 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. CEI has also put together a helpful website with tips for self-employed and other workers applying for PUA.
- 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.
- A Paycheck Protection Program implemented through the federal stimulus package. This program helps small businesses and sole proprietors access loans with loan forgiveness when they keep employees on their payroll.
- Detailed information on the FAME COVID-19 Consumer Loan Guarantee Program offering low-or-no interest loans to qualifying applicants.
- A resource to get answers any time by dialing 211 (or 1-866-811-5695), texting your ZIP code to 898-211 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.