A legislative committee has unanimously endorsed a proposal to allocate tens of millions of dollars to help small businesses affected by severe winter storms over the past three months.

The 10-0, bipartisan vote by the Committee on Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business, along with interest from Gov. Janet Mills, suggest the bill has a strong chance of being funded in the supplemental budget, which is currently under lawmakers’ review.

Floodwaters from the confluence of the Androscoggin and Swift rivers inundate downtown Mexico on Dec. 20 closing off a section of Route 2 into Rumford. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

“It’s an important bill,” said Rep. Lucas Lanigan, R-Sanford. “I don’t want it to just sit on the shelf with all of the other ones that don’t have the money for it.”

The bill would establish a $50 million Small Business Weather Emergency Relief Fund and allocate grants to businesses with up to 500 employees, including nonprofits and logging companies, that were damaged by storms after September, as long as the storm damage occurred in Maine and the business plans to stay in the state.

Only damages caused by storms that prompted the governor to declare a disaster or civil emergency would be covered.

The funding, which could become available before the fiscal year ends on June 30, could also be used to cover retail inventory losses. And the committee amended the bill so grants could be used to repair storm-damaged multi-use trails, trailheads and trailside amenities.


The Department of Economic and Community Development would create rules, including eligibility guidelines and application and distribution processes, for the program by March 30. DECD told the committee it would need an additional, one-time allocation of $27,000 to administer the program.

“The office of the governor has made it clear they support this,” said Sen. Craig Hickman, a Winthrop Democrat who sponsored the bill.

“The governor recognizes the serious hardship and damage the storms have caused for businesses across Maine, and she is interested in working with Sen. Hickman to support their recovery,” Mills spokesman Ben Goodman said. “Her administration looks forward to engaging with him more on the bill.”

Maine businesses, especially along the coast and along major rivers, were hit hard by storms this winter.

A December storm dumped 6 inches of rain on central and western Maine, killing four people and causing widespread flood damage along rivers.

Two storms over a four-day period in January hammered coastal communities. Heavy rains, 60 mph winds and astronomical high tides decimated fishing piers, beaches, roads and other coastal infrastructure.

Mills’ budget includes a separate $50 million initiative to help communities shore up infrastructure, such as waterfront piers and buildings, culverts and stormwater and drinking water systems, so it can weather future severe storms, which are becoming more frequent because of climate change. That funding is coming from the state’s budget stabilization, or “Rainy Day” fund.

Although Hickman’s bill calls for one-time funding, Hickman said it would establish a permanent program that could receive additional allocations in the future, including private funding and additional federal money that might come to the state.

“Because it’s in statute, as the analysis has said, it’s there,” Hickman said. “It would have to be repealed in order for that not to be possible.”

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