Over the past few months, I have heard from many of you about the rising costs we have all been facing, and just how much it’s affected you. It’s no secret that inflation is taking a toll on nearly every industry, and American consumers are hurting. Groceries, utilities, lodging and more have seen some of the biggest price increases year over year. But the biggest price increase is — you guessed it — gasoline. Gas prices have increased over 50 percent from this time last year. All of this has created a lot of uncertainty and anxiety for Mainers and their families.

Joseph Rafferty

I want you to know that I hear you, and that my family is enduring this moment alongside you.

While there’s no one reason for all of these price increases, a lot of it has to do with recovering global supply chains as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Acknowledging these global factors helps put consumer price increases in perspective, but it doesn’t paint a complete picture of the situation. Gas and oil companies may cite inflation or other factors for the dramatic price hikes we have seen at the pump, but these narratives become harder to believe when many of these companies are experiencing record profits at the same time that consumers are facing record high gas prices.

That’s why on June 9, I was proud to join over 75 Maine lawmakers in a letter to Maine’s attorney general, the state’s top prosecutor, urging him and his office to partner with us in investigating possible price gouging by big oil companies. Price gouging happens when merchants sell their goods or services for a higher price than it’s worth, especially when demand is high and supplies are limited. While the cost of fuel has many moving parts and oil producing companies are allowed to make profits like any other company or industry, we have to be sure that those profits are earned fairly and not made by taking advantage of consumers like you and me.

My colleagues and I refuse to sit idly by while Maine consumers are hurting, but unfortunately most of these price hikes are out of the hands of state lawmakers like myself. With that said, I want to be sure you are all aware of the relief Maine legislators worked hard to make happen — the $850 relief checks. More than 800,000 Mainers qualify for these checks and many of them have already been mailed out.

If you are unsure whether you qualify for one of these checks, no worries. To qualify you need to have filed your individual state income taxes (your 1040 ME) for 2021 and meet the income requirements. All Mainers who earned less than $100,000 that filed singly, less than $150,000 that filed as head of household, or less than a combined $200,000 for couples couple that filed jointly all qualify to receive these checks.

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If you haven’t yet filed or don’t usually file, please know that you will need to do so in order to receive your check. Don’t worry, you have until Oct. 31 of this year to file your Maine state income taxes. If you need help filing, call 2-1-1 or visit www.cashmaine.org to find free, qualified help. Please keep in mind that these folks are volunteers and are experiencing a high volume of calls. If someone doesn’t answer, please leave a message with your name and number and they will reach out as soon as they can.

For other questions about the checks, visit www.maine.gov/governor/mills/relief-checks or call Maine Revenue Services at 207-624-9924.

As always, if you or your family need help finding resources, please visit 211maine.org, dial 2-1-1, or reach out to my office at any time. You can send me an email [email protected] or reach me by phone at 207-590-9902. You can also reach my office at 207-287-1515. If you want to stay even more up to date on what we’re working on in Augusta, sign up for my newsletter at mainesenate.org.

Joseph Rafferty is a member of the Maine State Senate representing District 34, Acton, Kennebunk, Lebanon, Moody, North Berwick, Wells, West Lebanon and part of Berwick. He can be reached at [email protected]

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