By Senator Bill Diamond
On Tuesday March 17, the Maine Legislature temporarily adjourned to do our part to reduce the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. Mitigating this public health crisis is about all of us doing our part to keep our friends, family and neighbors healthy. However, before we adjourned, lawmakers passed a supplemental budget that will keep our state running in the Legislature’s absence.
Here’s an overview of what Maine has done to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak:
Created the COVID-19 response fund so the governor can respond to the pandemic while the Legislature is out of session
Expanded unemployment benefits so Mainers aren’t left in the lurch if their job or income is harmed by the COVID-19 outbreak
Ensured that children who rely on free and reduced lunch can continue to get meals while school is closed
Worked with the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide emergency disaster loans to small businesses impacted by this pandemic
While the State House will be closed until March 30, I want to assure you that staff in my office will continue to work remotely to answer questions and keep you updated on Maine’s response to COVID-19. You can email them at email@example.com. In fact, I will do my best to send weekly updates on what is going on with COVID-19 in Maine, how you can protect your own health and helpful resources.
These are uncertain times, and I know that can be unsettling for many people. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions, concerns or need more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or (207) 650-4713
Our top priority: Responding to the coronavirus
Our number one priority before adjourning for the year was making sure that Maine could effectively respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. We’ve seen what happens when states take action and when they don’t. It is our job to do everything we can to support our constituents through these trying times.
This list of emergency legislation includes two measures specifically targeting the COVID-19 response. The first measure creates an $11 million COVID-19 fund, which the governor can use in the Legislature's absence. The second bill is the Governor’s COVID-19 Omnibus bill, which will do the following:
Expand unemployment benefits to help workers and businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19
Allow the Department of Education to waive certain school-day requirements and to continue school lunch programs for all eligible kids
Allow remote participation in some municipal meetings
Allow the state to guarantee interest-free loans to Mainers
Streamline the process to allow the Maine Emergency Medical Services’ Board to delegate functions and authority to Maine EMS staff
Are you out of work because of the coronavirus?
Apply for unemployment today.
Today, the Maine Legislature passed legislation to expand unemployment benefits to cover workers harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic in Maine. We’ve also changed the regulations to recognize the unprecedented situation. We’ve waived the one-week waiting period for benefits and the work search requirement for workers who know that they will be returning to the same job at the end of this crisis.
You are now eligible to collect unemployment benefits in the following situations:
An employer temporarily ceases operation due to COVID-19
An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work once the quarantine is over
An individual leaves employment due to risk of exposure or infection
An individual leaves employment to care for a family member
Here is the link to apply: reemployme.maine.gov/accessme/faces/login/login.xhtml
Small business loans available
In Maine, our economy is powered by small businesses in our downtowns. Over the last few days, I’ve heard from many small businesses worried about how they will economically survive the COVID-19 outbreak. Fortunately, the U.S. Small Business Administration has approved Governor Mills’ application for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans to help Maine businesses overcome any temporary loss of revenue due to the pandemic. Maine is one of the first states in the country to be approved, and Maine small business owners can now begin applying for these loans.
Here is what businesses need to apply:
SBA Disaster Loan Application Account: https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/Account/Register1
IRS Form 4506-T: https://irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4506t.pdf
Personal financial statement
A schedule of liabilities
A copy of your most recently filed federal income tax return.
Where things stand today
Information and guidelines surrounding the coronavirus pandemic are constantly evolving and being updated. As of Tuesday morning, the Maine CDC had announced 32 cases of COVID-19 in the state. Cases have been identified in Cumberland County, Androscoggin, Lincoln, Knox, Oxford, York and Kennebec counties. However, right now community transmission has only been found in Cumberland County.
On Sunday, Governor Mills declared a state of civil emergency and outlined four major recommendations that will help slow the spread of the coronavirus in Maine. Those recommendations are:
Ending classroom instruction in all public schools as soon as reasonably practical
Postponing all non-urgent medical procedures, elective surgeries, and appointments at hospitals and health care providers across the state
Restricting visitors and all non-essential health care personnel to long-term care facilities except for certain compassionate care situations, such as end of life
Postponing all events with 50 or more people, and all gatherings of more than 10 that include individuals who are at higher risk for severe illness, such as seniors
The governor’s recommendations are in effect until further notice.