WINTERPORT — On Monday, Republicans in the U.S. Senate announced their plan to severely cut unemployment benefits to millions of Americans who have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, Sen. Susan Collins and her Republican colleagues are opposing a full extension of the current $600 weekly benefit that has kept so many Maine families and businesses afloat during this unprecedented economic and public health crisis.

Instead, they want to cut the supplemental unemployment benefits to a measly $200 a week for two months before phasing in a mind-numbingly complex new system meant to prevent some low-wage workers from making a little more than they would while working. This $200 amount is simply not enough for most Mainers to pay their bills and stay in their homes. As for the proposed wage-matching system, the Maine Department of Labor has stated that such a plan would take months to implement.

Having spent months moderating an unemployment assistance group with the Maine AFL-CIO and Maine Equal Justice, I can tell you that the Maine Labor Department already has its hands full trying to fix thousands of broken claims for people who have been out of work since March and still haven’t received their benefits. If the state has to implement a complex new unemployment program, we will certainly see more delays, more technical glitches and more desperate Mainers falling into poverty.

The Collins campaign often reminds us that she co-wrote the Paycheck Protection Program, but she neglects to mention that many small Maine businesses like my own were unable to secure PPP loans and instead rely on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. In 2007, I pursued my dream to become a fiber artist and was making a decent living selling my work in various farmers markets across the state. But in July 2019, my husband, a former truck driver, became extremely ill with short-term memory loss, so having a flexible schedule and being able to work from home were crucial in allowing me to take care of him.

Unfortunately, like many artists, I own a business that depends on the tourism industry and I make 99 percent of my income from March until December. In February, I started negotiations on leasing a farm in order to expand fiber production. My plan was to triple my business income the first year. Then in March, COVID-19 struck. Within a week my entire schedule to make money was wiped clean. The Maine Department of Agriculture would allow the sale of only food and soap at farmers markets and all other holiday shows were canceled. Meanwhile, I am left having to pay for the lease on a farm and a shop.

I applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan and an Economic Injury Disaster Loan from the Small Business Administration, but was denied both. I was initially told I was still eligible for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan advance, but last week I was informed that the money was gone. I took classes, wrote business plans, raised money for capital investments and have worked hard to grow this business. If this extra $600 goes away, I will lose my business, my livelihood and potentially my home.

Sen. Collins needs to understand that numerous small-business owners like myself across the state will be severely harmed if this benefit is reduced, lapses or is ended. Many of us were making a lot more than this modest weekly benefit, but we were forced to close our businesses with the understanding that the government would step in and save us from ruin.

As cases of the coronavirus continue to spike and businesses shutter and lay off workers, now is not the time to cut this lifesaving benefit that is creating so much economic activity and keeping Mainers safe and economically secure. For the sake of the economy, Sen. Collins, please fully extend this critical lifeline.


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