The COVID-19 outbreak is the most serious global pandemic in a century. In addition to infecting many and straining our health care system, COVID-19 has forced businesses across Maine to close down, lay off employees or make significant changes, practically overnight. These actions are necessary to protect public health, but they have been painful for businesses and households alike.

It is critical that we all do our part by responding to this challenge with courage and compassion. But we should also recognize that this moment does not come with an instruction manual. Many of us are navigating new challenges we could not have anticipated even a few months ago, and we are doing so while trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy in our lives.

If you are struggling, you should know that it is okay, it is understandable, and you are not alone. You should also know that help is available.

Workers who have been laid off, have to stay home, or have had their hours reduced because of the COVID-19 outbreak should file for unemployment.

The Legislature recently expanded Maine’s unemployment insurance program to cover workers who lose their job or have to stay home because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Legislature also waived the one-week waiting period and job search requirement for individuals covered under the expanded program. In addition, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress expands the program to cover people who are self-employed and “gig economy” workers, such as Uber drivers. The CARES Act also increases the benefit amount and the length of time someone can collect benefits. If you think you may be eligible, don’t wait, apply today. You may do so online at reemployme.maine.gov, or by calling 1-800-593-7660, although online is preferred.

Small business owners in our community are feeling the effects of this crisis, too. If you own a small business and are looking for help, the best place to start is your local financial institution. Banks and credit unions have authority to defer required payments, waive fees and make accommodations. They can also help business owners navigate their available options. Small businesses can also take advantage of loans from the Small Business Administration, visit covid19relief.sba.gov for more information.

Another place to turn is the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, available at 1-800-872-3838 or by email at [email protected] In addition, we can all do our part to support our local businesses by purchasing gift cards and using curbside pickup and delivery options when possible.

It’s also important that we look out for our mental health. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, you can call or text 1-888-568-1112 or chat with someone online at heretohelpmaine.com. These are difficult times, but you are not alone.

If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, it is crucial that you get in touch with your health care provider. Do not just show up to a health care facility without calling ahead and expect to get tested, as doing so could spread the virus even more. If you think you might be infected, call your doctor or a local clinic first, and they’ll help you determine the steps you should take.

For information on COVID-19, visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus, the website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can also visit the Maine CDC website at www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/ for Maine-specific updates on COVID-19, or dial 211, text your zip code to 898-211 or email [email protected] Run by United Way, 211 Maine can also help connect Mainers with food, housing or health care.

My office is also here for you as a resource. You may call (207) 287-1515 or send me an email at [email protected] for assistance.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: