On the evening of July 19, the Maine Legislature completed its work and adjourned. It was the end to a remarkable session that had us spending countless hours doing committee work over Zoom, having socially distanced floor sessions at the Augusta Civic Center and finishing with a marathon month of June back at the State House. So, even though we were wrapping up our work in July, we didn’t coast to the finish. Earlier on that same day, legislators passed a bill, which is now law, to invest federal relief funds that Maine received through the American Rescue Plan. I wanted to use this space to share some of the highlights of this investment, and why I’m so proud of the work we put into this measure.

As a refresher, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act in March, and as a part of that bill, each state received federal funds to help us recover from the pandemic, which could then be directed according to certain guidelines. As legislators, our job was to determine the best way to invest nearly $1 billion of those funds. This money will be transformational over the coming years, from supporting our small businesses and workers, to investing in new technologies for the future and building affordable housing. There’s too much to cover in one column, but as a small business owner myself, I wanted to go over some of the ways Maine businesses will benefit.

We put aside $20 million in grants for businesses that are still suffering the after-effects of the pandemic, and that may have been ineligible for previous grants. I heard from some folks during the past few months whose businesses for one reason or another didn’t qualify for certain grants. This will make sure that no Maine business continues to suffer needlessly, and no one falls through the cracks. We also put funding toward grants for new research and development projects and cut red tape that can hinder innovation and progress. To ensure our economy can thrive in the years to come, we need to be on the leading edge of new technology. These grants will help us get there.

We also made efforts to fill longstanding gaps in our workforce. Even before the pandemic, many businesses across our state had trouble finding an adequate number of employees, but the pandemic made the situation much worse. To address this, we directed $5 million to the Department of Economic and Community Development for their efforts to attract and retain new workers. We need more people to come to our state to live, work and raise their family. Making sure folks are aware of all the great opportunities available to them in Maine is part of that plan. We also made it easier for small businesses to afford health insurance for their employees by creating a new program within the Maine Bureau of Insurance. This will ease the burden on our businesses as they continue to recover from the pandemic.

Finally, we added $80 million into Maine’s unemployment trust fund. After the unprecedented amount of unemployment claims during the last year and a half, adding money will ensure that Maine businesses see no rate increases. Businesses aren’t at fault for the necessary closures and layoffs that occurred during the pandemic, and they shouldn’t suffer consequences because of it. I’m glad we took action to ensure they won’t.

This is just a brief overview of some of the investments the Legislature made with federal relief funds. Altogether, these new grants, programs and funding will be transformational to our economy for years to come. Our job was to figure out the best use of federal dollars, and I believe we accomplished that goal.

If you have any questions, comments or thoughts, you can always reach me by email at [email protected] or call my office at 287-1515.

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