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October 19, 2021

Mills announces $139M investment in Maine's pandemic recovery

Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday unveiled a $139 million program to help the state rebound from the pandemic by aiding small businesses, lowering insurance premiums and replenishing the unemployment trust fund.

The program includes $20 million for a new small business grant program, $39 million to help lower monthly health insurance premiums, and $80 million to replenish the Maine unemployment trust fund and mitigate tax hikes for small businesses.

The outlays are part of the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, which was recently approved by the Maine State Legislature, to invest nearly $1 billion of federal American Rescue Plan funds to tackle immediate economic recovery from the pandemic, long-term economic growth for Maine, and infrastructure revitalization.

“The health of Maine people, the health of our economy, and the health of our future depend on three things: our ability to put the pandemic behind us, our ability to tackle the economic challenges immediately in front of us, and the ability to solve the longstanding, systemic problems that have held us back for decades,” Mills said in a news release.

“These initial investments, which deliver crucial financial relief to small businesses and Maine people, are a down-payment on these efforts. When combined with our forthcoming investments to rebuild our workforce, expand access to child care and housing, and support new, innovative industries, we will build a stronger state and a better economy."

Under the small business grant program, $5 million will be set for grants targeted at supporting businesses that still need immediate short-term help to sustain operations. The money will help businesses and nonprofits with expenses related to loans and interest they incurred in order to stay in operation. Applications for the program will be open Nov. 1.

The remaining $15 million will then be made available in April 2022 in order for businesses and nonprofits to easily use tax returns to demonstrate the financial impact of the pandemic on their businesses and qualify for a funding based on need.

Meanwhile, the state transferred $39 million to the Maine Bureau of Insurance to launch the small business health insurance premium relief program. Beginning on Nov. 1 and running through April 30, 2023, the program will help small businesses offer affordable health insurance to their workers, which will help recruit and retain workers as Maine recovers from the pandemic.

Under the program, health insurers will receive financial assistance to reduce premiums for their small business customers by $50 per covered employee per month. Relief increases for couples and families to $80 for one adult and a child, $100 for two adults, and $130 for two adults and a child. Small businesses would then split these savings with their workers.

Lastly, the state transferred $80 million to Maine’s unemployment trust fund, providing alternative funding for state unemployment benefits in order to mitigate tax increases on Maine small businesses.

This $80 million transfer is the governor’s third infusion into the fund, building on two previous transfers totaling nearly $300 million. Without these investments, the Maine Department of Labor estimated that employer unemployment taxes in both 2021 and 2022 likely would have more than doubled.

Workforce investments in the jobs plan include $105 million for workforce programs at Maine schools, community colleges, and universities, $50 million for affordable and workforce housing, $20 million to expand pre-K and child care infrastructure, and programs targeted directly at addressing pressing workforce needs in health care and clean energy fields.

Other investments include expanding broadband, enhancing state parks, accelerating weatherization and energy efficiency projects, and upgrading municipal stormwater and drinking water projects.

Funding for the Jobs Plan is through the federal American Rescue Plan Act, which allocated $4.5 billion in stimulus funds to Maine earlier this year. Other funding announcements are expected in coming weeks.

“These investments are critical for Maine businesses and the people they employ,” said Dana Connors, president and CEO of the Maine Chamber of Commerce. “Each initiative announced by the governor … will make it that much easier for small businesses to recover from the pandemic, keep and put people to work in good-paying jobs, and strengthen our economy.”

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