All across Maine, small businesses are at the heart of our communities and downtowns. Local shops and restaurants give Maine towns the character our state is famous for. But amidst the ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, small business owners and their employees are facing hardship and uncertainty. I can’t tell you when things will go “back to normal.” But I can tell you that help is available.

I want to applaud all the business owners who have taken steps to protect the health and wellbeing of their workers, customers and clients. These are hard decisions to make, and can leave a business on unstable financial footing. But in this unprecedented public health emergency, it’s critical that we put the safety of our neighbors before all else. Business owners across Maine are doing their part to “flatten the curve” — helping to ensure our hospitals and their staff will not be overwhelmed by this pandemic — and they deserve our gratitude.

If you’re able, keep supporting Maine businesses. Some shops have been able to move to online-only ordering. Many restaurants and bars have switched to curbside pick-up and delivery. Local farms and food producers also are offering pick-up options; you can find out what’s available near you by checking out this web page, put together by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension: extension.umaine.edu/agriculture/farm-product-and-pickup-directory/.  To help businesses that aren’t able to stay open, such as salons and movie theaters, you can buy a gift card — the business gets the money now, when it’s most needed, and you have a fun activity to look forward to once things calm down.

Businesses in need can take advantage of Economic Injury Disaster Loans from the U.S. Small Business Association. Thanks to leadership from Gov. Janet Mills, Maine was one of the first states in the country to qualify for these loans, which can help a business overcome any temporary loss of revenue due to the pandemic. The SBA has released information about Disaster Loans, which you can read on their website. You can also start the application process online by going to https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/Account/Register1. To apply, you’ll need information from the following documents: IRS Form 4506-T, personal financial statement, a schedule of liabilities, and a copy of your most recently filed Federal income tax return.

Some business owners may just need some extra advice or a sounding board about how to best proceed. After all, it can be hard to make big decisions when we’re feeling overwhelmed or afraid. If you need help, Maine’s Small Business Development Centers offers free, confidential business advising. They have experienced business advisors standing by to help, via video conferencing. You can find them at www.mainesbdc.org.

If you’re a business owner and you have to cut hours for your staff because of the pandemic, I’d ask you to consider the WorkShare program, which is administered through the Department of Labor. This program is designed to help Maine businesses keep their workforce while ensuring your workers get the financial help they need. Find out more at www.maine.gov/unemployment/workshare/.

If you’re a worker who has been laid off because of the coronavirus pandemic, I strongly encourage you to apply for unemployment. To make sure Mainers get the help they need in a timely manner, the work search requirement and one-week waiting period have been waived for those who will be returning to work once this health crisis has passed. To learn more or to start the application process, got to https://reemployme.maine.gov. We still need to do more for those who are self-employed or contract workers, but that change must happen on the federal level. I’m urging our Congressional delegation to act soon to offer help to this group of hardworking individuals, which includes our fishermen.

If you or your family need help with rent, bills or food, the United Way has a COVID-19 economic relief fund. Call 211 and enter your zipcode to get a list of local groups that can provide you with assistance.

We are living through uncertain times. I know many of you are scared and worried about the future. It’s an understandable reaction to the crisis we’re facing. But I find hope in the outreach I see from so many of our neighbors and friends. We may be practicing social distancing, but we are hardly alone. For my part, while I may not be working from the State House for the foreseeable future, I’m still working hard to make sure you, the people of Maine, are getting the support you need to get through these trying times. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at [email protected], or by calling 207-287-1515.

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