Ever since COVID-19 arrived in Maine, it seems our lives are changing by the day. Every one of us is making changes to help protect public health. Some of those changes leave us uneasy, but what has brought me comfort in this time is seeing the creativity and kindness of our friends and neighbors. We are helping each other through, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Take our small businesses. Our local economy is driven by small businesses, and I have been astounded by their ability to adjust to this new normal. Many have shifted to delivering their goods or providing services digitally to avoid closing and to make sure we get the items they need. I’ve also been touched by community members buying gift cards to local shops and finding other ways to support our businesses.

Still, I know our local businesses need more help, and want to stress a few resources available to our local businesses and the folks they employ. The US Small Business Administration is offering Maine more access to Economic Impact Disaster Loans. Businesses can check eligibility and apply online. As part of our efforts to make unemployment insurance benefits more accessible, employers can use a Maine Department of Labor program called Workshare to make sure their employees get partial unemployment benefits if their hours are reduced. Plus, we’ve made more consumer loans available at low-to-no interest with the help of Maine lenders. The federal stimulus bills are moving to final approval at this writing, so we anticipate more relief to be available for our self-employed independent contractors.

I’ve also been grateful for the way we’re taking care of our older neighbors. We have likely all heard by now that COVID-19 is more easily contracted by seniors, and that the virus takes a larger toll on those individuals. I am thankful to the many grocery stores that have opened up senior shopping hours and to the youth in our community making calls to our aging neighbors to provide companionship and keep their social connections from fraying. I ask all in our community to reach out to the seniors in our lives to offer assistance in running errands and connecting with resources. I am also happy to connect any seniors with additional support.

It’s also important that you take care of your own social needs during this time of social distancing. I want to remind people that social distancing does not mean social isolation, and it does not mean staying inside. We are so lucky to live in a state with so many incredible things to do outdoors. I encourage you to be outside, while being mindful of others and maintaining a six-foot distance. Visit one of Maine’s many trails, take a walk on the beach or go fishing! Here in our district, Georgetown, Phippsburg and Dresden have numerous places to explore! There’s also the incredible Kennebec Estuary Land Trust. Until April 30, the state has waived the need to have a recreational fishing license to fish in the inland waters of Maine. Expired registrations for boats, all-terrain vehicles and cars have also been extended until 30 days after this public health crisis ends. We hope these steps will help you get around and get outside.

Thank you for all you are doing to get our community through this difficult time. Thank you for reminding each other way we are so lucky to call Maine home. We are a community that cares, and we will defeat this virus together. In the meantime, I am here to provide any support I can. I am in regular contact with a number of social service organizations and volunteer groups so reach out any time at [email protected]

Allison Hepler represents District 53 — Arrowsic, Dresden, Georgetown, Phippsburg, Woolwich and part of Richmond — in the state Legislature.

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