It’s clear from her recent column, “Washington’s COVID response has put partisan politics ahead of state, local needs,” that Sara Gideon, candidate for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, is willing to place her own political ambitions ahead of the needs of real working Mainers.

Budgets in Maine’s cities and towns have been decimated by the coronavirus. Because of the cost of enforcing the governor’s executive orders, our expenses are skyrocketing all the while we are trying to do the right thing by providing financial support to our ailing small businesses, and the people they employ.

But Gideon has shirked her responsibilities as Maine House speaker. Her only answer to the very real problems our communities are facing is to try to cast blame on Sen. Susan Collins. Instead, Gideon should turn the mirror on herself.

The U.S. Senate passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act by a vote of 96-0 on March 25.  The CARES Act established a $150 billion fund to provide payments and reimbursements for expenses to state, local and certain tribal governments that have been harmed by the coronavirus. Unfortunately, at the insistence of the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, this aid did not go directly to communities with populations of fewer than 500,000 people. Schumer represents New York state – which has cities with more than a half million people.  Maine has none.

So instead, Maine’s portion of the fund, totaling $1.25 billion, went directly to the state of Maine and is under the control of Gov. Mills and Senate and House leaders, such as Gideon. They get to decide how best to distribute the money to help our communities.

Unfortunately, that money is still sitting in the bank somewhere – because neither Mills nor Gideon has decided how it should be spent.

Governor Mills apparently wants to wait and claims that she needs to hear from the U.S. Treasury about how the money can be spent. But the Treasury issued guidance May 4. The very next day, states like New Hampshire started distributing their portion of the fund. New Hampshire paid local towns and cities $30 per capita, supported local businesses struggling to keep afloat and gave $300 a week in hazard pay to front-line workers.  And its governor convened a special committee to come up with a plan to release the rest of the money May 15.

While I don’t believe Gov. Mills needs further federal guidance, even she admits she could use some help from the Legislature – particularly Gideon. In a letter to Gideon and Senate President Troy Jackson last month, Mills criticized their proposal to create a new commission to respond to the coronavirus and instead implored them to help her figure out how to distribute this needed funding to Maine’s communities. It seems even the governor acknowledges that Gideon isn’t doing her job.

Gov. Mills is also asking Congress to provide additional funding and more flexibility for the funding the state has already received.

Fortunately, Gov. Mills has Sen. Susan Collins on her side. Collins has introduced the SMART Act, which would provide that flexibility – as well as an additional $500 billion in emergency funding to every state, county and community in the country – regardless of population size.  For Maine, that means at least an additional $2 billion. Collins’ bill would go a long way to help communities like Auburn fill the financial hole left in the wake of the coronavirus. But based on the partisan wrangling in the U.S. House of Representatives, that help is weeks if not months away from getting to where it needs to go: Maine towns and cities.

We can only assume that the CARES Act money is not being distributed because of inept leadership in the Blaine House and the Maine House, or, more cynically, that the distribution of this much-needed money is being delayed for political gain.  Either way, this is Maine, not Washington, and our cities and towns deserve the relief that this legislation was intended to provide.

Speaker Gideon should show us that she’s a leader versus playing Washington politics while our future hangs in the balance.


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