On Monday, July 19, the Legislature adjourned sine die, or “without day,” finally wrapping a long, complicated but ultimately rewarding session. One of the last bills we voted on for the year was also one of the most important: LD 1733 directs how nearly $1 billion in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) will be spent to help Maine’s people and economy build back better. There are a variety of significant programs that this money will fund, and I wanted to share with you some of those.

For starters, we used this once-in-a-lifetime influx of federal funds to invest in our heritage industries, including farming, fishing and forestry. These are industries that have been the foundation of Maine’s economy for generations and helped shape our state’s character. LD 1733 provides $20 million in investments in Maine’s farms and food processors, driving growth and supporting sustainability among agriculture businesses. This will help bolster our state’s food system, allowing for more Maine-grown and harvested products to be processed and sold locally, which will in turn decrease our reliance on imported food while expanding our export economy. This bill also allocates $10 million to the Department of Marine Resources for grants to help seafood processors and dealers upgrade or replace infrastructure and improve their facilities, and another $20 million to support good-paying jobs in the forest products industry, lowering energy costs and helping to meet Maine’s ambitious climate goals.

The COVID-19 pandemic made it crystal clear just how important access to quality, affordable health care is. A key part of that is addressing our state’s shortage of health care providers, from doctors, to nurses to direct care workers. LD 1733 funds the Doctors for Maine’s Future Scholarship program for the next five years, providing scholarships to medical students right here in Maine. It also creates a stackable credential program for direct care workers, which will support the extraordinary Mainers who are already doing this important work and reduce staff shortages among long-term and direct care providers. This new program will allow direct care workers themselves to access additional training and advance their careers.

I know that while this will help families in the long-term, it’s not an immediate solution. Right now, countless Mainers are doing incredible work taking care of loved ones who are aging or have disabilities because they simply can’t get access to an in-home care provider, even if they qualify for it. To help these families, we’re using ARPA funds to create a pilot program that will provide financial relief to these families, while they provide their loved ones with vital care. And to help seniors and those with disabilities stay in their homes, we’ve also directed money to a new property tax relief program. For so many Mainers on a fixed income, increasing property taxes are an incredible burden. By providing this tax relief to lower-income Mainers, we help people stay in the homes they’ve always known, and close to the community members and family who look out for them.

These are just a few of the measures funded in LD 1733. There were also major investments in workforce development, economic recovery grants for businesses and improvements in reliable, high-speed internet access. What’s more, the vast majority of these measures received strong bipartisan support. These are investments that just make sense for Maine as we come out of this economic crisis and look to set our state back on the road to prosperity.

As always, if you have questions about this bill or another measure the Legislature considered this session, you can reach out to my office by calling 287-1515 or by emailing me at [email protected]

Eloise Vitelli is a state senator representing District 23, covering Sagadahoc County and Dresden.

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