Maine workers, small-business owners, public health officials and others are anxiously awaiting the federal coronavirus relief passed by Congress on Monday.

The House passed the $900 billion relief package late Monday night and the Senate follow suit shortly before midnight, sending the compromise package to President Trump’s desk. The bill to enact more federal aid after months of gridlock would extend programs such as enhanced federal unemployment benefits that expire this week.

The bill includes an added $300-per-week unemployment benefit for the next three months, $284 billion in new forgivable loans for struggling small businesses, $600 stimulus checks for people making up to $75,000, billions of dollars for vaccine purchase and distribution, $25 billion for rental assistance, $45 billion for transportation, $82 billion for primary, secondary and higher education, and $13 billion for farmers.

“This legislation will provide much-needed aid to small businesses and hospitals, the unemployed, and families struggling to put food on the table. It will also provide funds to speed the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine,” Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, D-2nd District, said in a statement issued Monday night.

Golden apologized to his constituents for how long it took Congress to act on their behalf.

“We shouldn’t let the fact that Congress is finally taking action distract from its failure to act sooner. This relief legislation could have and should have happened months ago, and it’s sad that congressional leaders let partisan interests get in the way of agreeing to an earlier deal,” Golden said. “In 2021, Congress needs to step up and lead the country through this pandemic and get our economy back on track.”


Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, D-1st District, said the relief bill should provide a boost to Maine people and the state’s economy, but that it doesn’t quite go far enough in providing relief that the state needs.

“While this package is insufficient, I will vote yes because half a loaf is better than no loaf at all,” Pingree said in a statement Monday evening. “… It’s incredibly disappointing that this bill caps stimulus checks at half the amount the House passed in May and it does not include comprehensive assistance to state and local governments barely treading water.”

In addition to the $300 unemployment benefit and the $600 stimulus checks, Pingree said the bill’s highlights include an extension of the CDC eviction moratorium until Jan. 31, 2021, a 15 percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through June 30, 2021,  an additional 11 weeks of eligibility for unemployment insurance, and a second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans that target smaller and harder hit businesses.

Precisely when and how the money will be distributed was unclear Monday. Still, the emergence of relief after months of deteriorating business conditions and weeks of rapidly rising COVID-19 infections and deaths was welcome to some small Portland-area employers.

“It is good in terms of another injection of cash that can be used for payroll purposes,” said Ian Malin, owner of Little Giant in Portland’s West End. “I can keep paying people through the slow winter months, and we can get to spring when it will be warmer and we can do more outdoor dining.”

The Paycheck Protection Program, created by the CARES Act this spring, provided employers loans that could be forgiven if they used most of the money to keep employees on payroll. The first program brought more than $2.2 billion to Maine and supported up to 250,000 workers.


This round will be targeted to those businesses that have been hurt the most. Loans will be available only to enterprises with 300 or fewer employees that can demonstrate a 25 percent drop in business compared with last year. The previous version of the program was open to companies with up to 500 employees and had no required threshold for revenue losses.

The new relief bill also sets aside $15 billion for art, culture and entertainment venues that have been battered during the pandemic.

Restaurants, hotels and other hospitality companies, which have been among the hardest-hit businesses during the pandemic, are provided special advantages from the new paycheck protection loans, according to HospitalityMaine, an industry group.

Loans are based on 2.5 times monthly payroll costs, but restaurants and inns can seek loans up to 3.5 times payroll, HospitalityMaine said. Plus, expenses paid for with paycheck protection loans can be deducted from federal taxes, it added.

“This bill will help our inns and restaurants with much-needed capital and create more time for us to work with Congress to create the additional programs and save our independent inns and restaurants, which continue to be such an important part of our culture and Maine’s brand,” said HospitalityMaine President Steve Hewins in a statement.

While aid is welcome, the bill does not go far enough to help struggling bars and eateries, said Andrew Volk, co-owner of Portland Hunt & Alpine Club.


Volk was among more than 100 Maine restaurant owners who supported a targeted aid package of $120 billion for their industry.

“Congress clearly wants to help restaurants – they understand they need to help us change our businesses, but what they have put out there right now does not help us enough,” Volk said. “It is a start and I hope they do more.”

The Maine Department of Labor said it is uncertain when the new unemployment aid would kick in. The relief bill would extend two federal unemployment programs – Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation – into 2021 and expand the time people can remain on benefits from 39 weeks to 50 weeks, department spokeswoman Jessica Picard said.

It also would provide an extra $300 per week for unemployed workers through next March. How quickly Maine can enact the benefits depends on the bill’s effective date. Right now, tens of thousands of jobless Mainers will lose federal programs when their last benefit payments are issued on Saturday.

“We are glad that Congress is considering extending the federal CARES Act unemployment programs, and are closely following the proposed legislation,” Picard said. “If the federal unemployment programs are extended, (the labor department) will work to implement the changes as quickly as possible. However, (it) cannot take any action prior to the effective date of new legislation.”

How Maine will benefit from federal money for vaccine purchase and distribution and COVID-19 testing and tracing is also unclear. The bill sets aside about $20 billion for vaccine procurement and another $22 billion for states’ testing, tracing and virus mitigation.

In a news conference Monday before the bill had been published, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Maine’s benefits were uncertain without closer inspection.

“The devil is always in the details,” Shah said. “Until I am able to go through with a very fine-toothed comb, I am unable to comment on what it means for the nation and particularly what it means for Maine and whether additional resources will be needed on top of that.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

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