By Rep. Mark Bryant
In the last two weeks, we’ve seen confirmed cases of coronavirus rise quickly in Maine, many of them here in Cumberland County. I know that we are all watching the unfolding news of COVID-19 with a mixture of uncertainty and anxiety. Whether it’s worry about public health and safety, concern about childcare and schools or determining how our workplaces may be changing and what effect that has on our economic well being, I want you to know that you are not in this alone.
Governor Mills’ Office and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) have been proactively preparing to respond to the coronavirus since December. We all need to work together to minimize exposure and follow best practices. The Legislature has been working closely with the Governor’s Office and the Maine CDC to respond to this global outbreak.
Last week, my colleagues and I met to end our Legislative Session early as a result of the COVID-19 situation. But before we left Augusta, we passed emergency legislation to help the state effectively and compassionately respond to COVID-19.
We established a consumer loan guarantee program through FAME, in partnership with financial institutions, to provide low- or no- interest loans for eligible people in Maine. We authorized Gov. Mills to determine and direct the manner of the June 2020 elections, giving us all more flexibility in these trying times. We temporarily expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits for workers impacted by COVID-19. And we increased the Department of Education’s ability to waive certain school-day requirements and to continue school lunch programs for all eligible children – lots of kids in our community get their meals from school, it’s so important that we make sure our children still have access to adequate nutrition.
The legislation further authorized Gov. Mills to adjust state, county and municipal government deadlines and to permit additional flexibility for municipal and school board budgets. We made it possible for all public entities to meet by remote participation, in keeping with social distancing recommendations. The Maine Emergency Medical Services’ Board and staff were given greater leeway in taking actions quickly and with less red tape so that they can respond effectively as the situation develops. The legislation also authorized Gov. Mills to prohibit terminating residential electric and water service during this emergency. And it delayed the effective date of the single-use plastic bag can to January 15, 2021.
In addition to the actions taken by the Legislature, early this week Gov. Janet Mills has taken a number of actions to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Maine. Most notably, she proclaimed a state of civil emergency that brings Maine to highest alert and allows Gov. Mills to deploy all available state resources to protect the health and safety of Maine people. It also gives Maine more access to critical federal aid to boost response efforts. At this time, Gov. Mills is also mandating that all non-essential businesses and operations in Maine close their physical locations that are public facing, meaning those that allow customer, vendor or other in-person contact. Dine-in facilities are practicing curbside takeout or delivery, schools have shifted to remote learning and gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited. While these are certainly big changes for our daily life, they are critical to keeping us healthy.
These are trying times, but I know the residents of Windham are resilient and will overcome. My promise to you is that, across Maine’s government, the health, safety and welfare of Maine people is our top priority. Please don't hesitate to reach out at Mark.Bryant@legislature.maine.gov if there is anything we can do to help.
Rep. Bryant is serving in the Maine House of Representatives, representing part of Windham in House District 24. He is a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation and the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government. Mark.Bryant@legislature.maine.gov