As a Maine entrepreneur, I have watched closely how the COVID pandemic has affected our small-business economy with the loss of jobs and entire businesses. But I have also admired the resilience and tenacity of neighbors and colleagues across the state to not only pivot and find creative ways to survive but also increase our collective generosity at the community level through volunteerism and collaboration with nonprofit partners.

Activists appeal for a $15 minimum wage near the U.S. Capitol. While Maine workers enjoy a minimum wage of $12.15, which is substantially above the $7.25 federal wage, voters here know that it’s time for a raise at the national level, according to a bipartisan Oxfam America poll. J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

Mainers are strong and giving, but nearly a year into the crisis, countless working families are struggling to keep their heads above water – and many are sinking, and we need the federal government to take action, soon.

Recently, Oxfam America, an anti-poverty organization I work with, commissioned a bipartisan poll in Maine to ask voters whether they think government should be doing more to boost the economy and support working families. 

The answer? A resounding “yes.” Eighty percent of voters in our state said they think that boosting the economy and creating jobs is more important than preventing increases in the deficit, and 66 percent said the federal government needs to do more to make the economic downturn less severe and help people financially.

Specifically, voters want Congress to do everything it can to support a robust COVID-19 relief package to address fundamental needs for families, such as child care, where 80 percent of voters in our state favor a substantial investment of $50 billion in the industry. 

The need for access to child care is obvious to nearly everyone – but especially parents, and mothers. The child care industry has been decimated by the pandemic, and losing affordable child care has dealt a huge blow to women, families and children. When the Maine Department of Health and Human Services just announced that it would direct $30.5 million in federal funds to support affordable child care, many of us could hear sighs of relief across Maine households.

But we must continue to invest even more to both rebuild and strengthen our child care system, especially for rural states like Maine. One estimate cites as many as 70 percent of child care providers in Maine are cutting back on their spaces or hours. Each reduction of child care services means women losing jobs – either in the industry itself, or because of the need to stay home.

Women are leaving the workforce in greater numbers than men; of the 48,900 jobs that Maine lost between last February and last November, over half belonged to women, even though fewer women participate in the workforce to begin with. 

In part, women have lost jobs in sectors that were most affected by the pandemic: accommodations, food service and child care. But a huge part of the reason that women are dropping out of the workforce is that they’re shouldering enormous new burdens at home, from caring for dependents to homeschooling to increased household duties. They simply can’t hold one job in the workforce while holding another at home.

Many working families have been facing loss of work and relying on unemployment benefits to tide them over. The federal supplement is literally a lifeline, enabling people to pay the bills and keep the heat on. The new poll finds that 54 percent of Maine voters want Congress to increase the federal COVID-19 unemployment benefit from $300 to $400 a week and extend benefits until the economy recovers. Over two-thirds of voters also favor Congress providing checks of $1,400 per person to all families earning less than $150,000.

Families – especially those with young children – are feeling the weight of all these problems. Members of Congress are weighing a proposal to offer a child tax credit of $3,000 for each child under age 17, which 68 percent of voters support, including 76 percent of parents. Finally, while Maine workers enjoy a minimum wage of $12.15, which is substantially above the federal wage, voters here know that it’s long past time for a raise at the national level. By a robust 16-point margin (57 percent to 41 percent), voters embrace a proposal to gradually increase the federal minimum wage, to reach $15 per hour in 2025. 

The time to take action is now. Our senators can throw a lifeline to people who’ve been affected by this crisis – and vote “yes” on the upcoming American Rescue Plan. The damage has been massive. And so the relief measures must be bold and swift, in order to make sure families can pay their bills, put food on the table and stay in their homes.

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