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June 15, 2020

$800M plan to rescue Maine's tourism industry is up to Legislature, Mills

Courtesy / Newscenter screen image Steve Hewins, CEO of Hospitality Maine, discusses the Maine Tourism Alliance recovery plan Friday.

A response to the $800 million tourism economic recovery plan proposed by an alliance of retail and hospitality groups Friday is now in the hands of the Maine Legislature and Gov. Janet Mills.

The groups on Friday unveiled the proposal, which would use money from the state's $1.25 billion share of the federal CARES Act.

Mills said later Friday that the Legislature's Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee is collaborating with her office on how the federal recovery money will be spent. It's not clear when the committee will meet next; no dates are listed on the state legislative calendar.

The Maine Hospitality and Tourism Alliance, in proposing the plan, said relief is needed as soon as possible and acknowledged that putting it in place is up to the state government.

"We cannot implement this plan, this is Gov. Mills' responsibility," said Steve Hewins, CEO of HospitalityMaine, as the plan was unveiled. "We offer our support to her, and the state's government leaders to partner with the industry on this. Our hope is that this will be received with the serious intent with which it's being delivered here today."

Mills, without addressing specifics of the proposal, noted the legislative committee's role in determining "potential uses of coronavirus relief funds," and said, "I hope they will take these proposals into consideration as well." 

She also said Economic Recovery Committee that she appointed in May, to look at long-term recovery, is considering proposals from all sectors, and that it underscores the need for Congress and the president to provide more aid for the states.

"I, too, am deeply concerned about our economy," she said. "But I can think of nothing more devastating than an outbreak or resurgence of this deadly untreatable virus during the height of tourism season. Nothing would be worse for our economy and for the tourism industry, in particular. I want visitors, staff and the public to know that they are protected by every means possible."

Courtesy / HospitalityMaine
A graphic from the Maine Tourism Alliance shows the features of the proposed $800 million recovery plan.

'Big problem, big solution'

"We have a big problem and we're proposing a big solution," Hewins said.

The state's tourism sector, including some retail and recreation businesses, is a $7 billion industry and is "almost 100% made up of small businesses, and it's on the verge of collapse," he said. 

The Maine Hospitality, Tourism and Recovery Plan calls for immediate assistance in the form of emergency action grants totaling $710 million, as well as $50 million in employee relief, $15 million each for the Maine Office of Tourism and essential technical assistance and $10 million for workforce reinvestments. The plan was created by HospitalityMaine, Maine Tourism Association and the Retail Association of Maine

Businesses with 50 or fewer employees that had trouble accessing the federal Paycheck Protection Program and SBA Emergency Injury Disaster Loans would would get $400 million of the emergency grant money. Hospitality, retail, and tourism businesses with more than 50 full-time employees would divvy up $300 million, and $10 million in grants would be reserved for 501(c)(6) organizations that service the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors.

“Due to the devastation the state’s restrictions are causing, this emergency funding is crucial for business survival,” Hewins said.

He said the industry didn't anticipate how long it would take to reopen restaurants, which still can't fully reopen, with those in three counties closed to indoor dining and those in the other 13 counties with capacity restrictions. He said the industry also didn't anticipate the 14-day in-state quarantine for out-of-state visitors "now replaced with an equally untenable testing protocol."

'Protecting health of Maine people'

Mills Friday moved up the date out-of-state tourists can stay at Maine lodging establishments to June 26 from July 1, but they still must either quarantine in-state or provide a negative COVID-19 test result that had been taken within 72 hours. Residents from New Hampshire and Vermont are free to stay at Maine lodgings, and are excluded from the quarantine and testing requirements.

"Accelerating the start date will help lodging establishments safely serve visitors during a key weekend of Maine’s tourism season  leading up to the July 4 holiday," she said.

MIlls acknowledged the damage the COVID-19 pandemic has done to the tourist industry. "It has hit Maine’s tourism industry hard and has caused people from across the country to question whether it is safe to travel," she said. "That is why my administration has worked hard to put forward a testing alternative that protects the health of Maine people, visitors, and employees and that allows us to market Maine as a safe place to visit."

Answering pushback on the testing requirement, Mills read a letter at Friday's Maine CDC briefing from a woman in Maine whose husband has been in Maryland. She hadn't seen him since March and was upset about the testing requirement. Her husband took the test and was found positive for COVID-19.

"This was a clear shot across the bow for our family as we have an extended 'familial bubble' that includes an immuno-compromised family member which may have led to devastating consequences," the woman, who asked that her family not be identified, said.

She said that the federal government also has to step up.

"This proposal also underscores the need for Congress and the president to provide greater aid to the states, which all governors have repeatedly advocated for, as the repercussions of this virus continue to reverberate across every sector of our economy, from commercial fishing, to agriculture, to health care, and many more," Mills said.

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