With a void of leadership in Washington, the state is stepping up to provide relief.

Government has a core responsibility to help provide relief related to this public health crisis; to those being impacted financially, assist those in need of care, coordinate emergency response, and support our front-line health professionals. The Legislature passed a sweeping package in direct emergency response.

We expanded unemployment insurance benefits for workers impacted by COVID-19. We need the Feds to grant the ability for folks who previously weren’t paying into the system or didn’t qualify for benefits to be able to expand it to that population like self-employed, nonprofits etc. We are communicating with our Congressional delegation on that piece. Apply for unemployment using this link: http://reemployme.maine.gov.

We established a consumer loan guarantee program to help eligible Mainers access no-interest loans. This program will be administered by FAME and the loans will be given by banks and credit unions. The State guarantees the loans. The loans do not need to be repaid during a specified period of time. Maximum loan amount is $5,000. This can be used by anyone including self-employed individuals and others not covered under the unemployment system. Details can be found at FAMEMAINE.com.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) approved Governor Janet Mills’ application for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans to help Maine businesses overcome any temporary loss of revenue due to COVID-19. The COVID-19 Relief Business Direct Loan Program provides FAME Direct Loans of up to $50,000 with special terms available to Maine-based businesses experiencing interruption or hardship due to COVID-19. Details also found at FAMEMAINE.com.

We created a COVID-19 response fund (with $11 million to start) to address unanticipated needs as they arise through Jan. 15, 2021. The governor can tap these funds at anytime and can add additional funds as needed.

We have suspended the termination of electricity and water for customers during the emergency declaration.

The State Department of Education waived certain school-day requirements and enabled local districts to continue getting meals to kids who need them. Saco and Old Orchard Beach in particular have stepped up to do this.

We have expanded telehealth capabilities and services to ensure adequate access to healthcare from your home and directed to DHHS to amend its rules to provide for reimbursement of case management services delivered through telehealth to targeted populations.

The Legislature also passed a number of key appropriations:
• $15 million for rate increases to support direct health care providers who are caring for Maine seniors, people with disabilities and children with behavioral health needs.
• $38 million for pre-K-12 education raising the State’s contribution in order to help keep schools afloat during this crisis and to keep providing distance learning opportunities.
• $17.4 million to the Budget Stabilization Fund to prepare for the possibility of future COVID-19 related expenses or any shifts in Maine’s economy as a result of COVID-19.
• A bond package of $15 million to expand high-speed internet access, a critical need as much of the state temporarily transitions to remote learning and remote work during this period of social distancing.
• $648k – COVID-19 Stipends for Nurses
• $455k – Health & Environmental Testing Lab
• $351k – Public Health Nurse Recruitment
• $279k – Office of Behavioral Health Services
• $259k – Home Community Therapy
• $359k – Medication Management Team
• $1.6 Million – 20 Child Protection Caseworkers
• $2.6 Million – Section 29 waitlist

We’ve allowed remote participation for municipal meetings to prevent contagion.

We authorized the state to enter into state-federal health coverage partnerships that support the availability of affordable health coverage and prohibited a health insurance carrier from retroactively reducing payment on a properly submitted claim by a pharmacy provider.

We increased death benefits for law enforcement officers, firefighters or emergency medical service persons who has died while in the line of duty from $50,000 to $75,000 through June 30, 2021.

The Legislature required health insurance carriers to allow physician assistants to serve as primary care providers under managed care plans.

To reduce costs, we created a $35 out-of-pocket prescription cap on insulin (for the insurers the state can regulate) and will now allow a pharmacist to issue a 30-day emergency supply of insulin to a patient with an expired prescription.

Emergency services under the state’s surprise medical billing statute to set up an independent dispute resolution mechanism for billing disputes around emergency services. This would include holding consumers harmless for ambulance services that result in a surprise bill and sets up a stakeholder process to tackle the larger issue.

The Department of Education commissioner has the authority to adjust the number of school days compulsory to graduate or receive credit for grade completion.

We’ve also extended the registration requirements for licenses and registrations such as motor vehicles, motorboats, hunting permits, dog licenses, etc. until 30 days after the emergency declaration ceases.

MaineCare is also waiving all copays for prescriptions, office visits, emergency department visits, radiology and lab services.

Going forward, the governor has the sole authority to manage the crisis, spend any money approved by the Feds, and wide latitude to shift state resources in every department to respond to the need at hand. While the Legislature is no longer in session, we can be, and will be, called back at anytime if additional appropriations or initiatives are needed (and if it’s safe health wise to do so).

While the Legislature is now out of session, I will continue to keep you posted with additional support coming from certain state departments and from the governor’s administration. I am in daily contact with the CDC and the administration, and we are getting frequent updates and conference calls with the latest from various department heads including the labor commissioner. I’m also on the phone with local officials and organizations coordinating further assistance. Things are changing by the hour, so know I’m here to help and you can reach out anytime as always. We are all in this together. My email is [email protected] and personal cell is 207-590-3266.

Justin Chenette is serving his second term in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He is the chair of the Government Oversight Committee, co-chair of the Democracy Reform Caucus, a member of the Environment and Natural Resources and Ethics Committees, and serves on the Maine Climate Council’s Coastal & Marine Working Group. He is also a Citizen Trade Policy Commissioner. Outside the Legislature, Justin is in real estate at the Bean Group, Owner of Chenette Media LLC, and is vice president of Saco Main Street. Follow updates at justinchenette.com.

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