Governor Janet Mills is taking strong steps to protect Maine workers and small businesses impacted by the 2019 novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
To protect small businesses, Governor Mills requested that the Small Business Administration (SBA) provide economic support loans to Maine small businesses in order to help them overcome any temporary loss of revenue due to COVID-19. To protect Maine workers, Governor Mills submitted emergency legislation, sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Sara Gideon, that temporarily expands eligibility for unemployment insurance to individuals whose employment has been impacted by COVID-19.
“Maine’s small businesses and their workers are the backbone of our economy, and there is no question that the coronavirus is impacting them,” said Governor Janet Mills. “It is my hope that these actions will not only help them weather this difficult time by providing critical capital and financial support, but also provide them an important sense of relief amid the uncertainty.”
Late last week, the SBA announced it would make economic injury disaster loans available to small businesses through the upon the request of a state’s governor. In a letter to the SBA, Governor Mills certified that Maine’s small businesses have been impacted by COVID-19 and are eligible for the SBA loans. With the Governor’s letter, Maine is one of the first states in the country to certify the virus’ impact on its small businesses, which positions it to become one of the first states to be approved for the SBA loans. According to the SBA, the loans offer up to $2 million in assistance for small businesses and may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.
“It is critical that we support both Maine businesses and Maine workers during this challenging time,” said Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Heather Johnson. “We have been, and will continue to be, working closely with the Federal Government and other entities that can offer support to ensure that there are resources available for businesses impacted by the changes in the market as a result of the Coronavirus.”
Meanwhile, the emergency legislation submitted by Governor Mills temporarily revises eligibility requirements for the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program to include situations not typically covered, such as: 1) employer temporarily ceases operation due to COVID-19; 2) an individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work once the quarantine is over; or 3) an individual leaves employment due to risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member. It also temporarily waives the one week waiting period for benefits so that workers may obtain benefits immediately and ensures that claims for UI will not affect an employer’s experience rating. These temporary measures will help relieve the burden of temporary layoffs, isolation, and medically-necessary quarantine on Maine workers and small businesses. Governor Mills has also urged Maine employers to be generous in their paid leave policies and to allow employees to work from home.
“During these difficult times, we must all do what Mainers do best: look out for our neighbors and take care of each other. After watching the COVID-19 outbreak unfold in other states and countries, we know we must be prepared to stand by workers, whose jobs are affected by the virus. They still have to feed their families, pay their rent and keep the lights on,” said Senate President Troy Jackson. “Working families make up the heart and soul of our communities. This bill is about making sure the stool doesn’t fall out from under them in the face of economic uncertainty.”
“We must address and mitigate this public health crisis. Helping Mainers take care of themselves and their families and ensuring they avoid spreading illness without the fear of losing a paycheck is paramount,” said House Speaker Sara Gideon. “This legislation will help both employees and employers and is just one piece of our response to this unprecedented situation. Across Maine’s government, the health, safety and welfare of Maine people is and will remain our top priority.”
“If workers do not have access to employer-provided paid time off or leave, this legislation can provide an important partial wage replacement,” Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said. “This helps not only the individual, but allows employers to retain their workforce and stabilize local economies.”
Governor Mills has also directed the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development to examine additional ways that the State can support Maine’s small businesses, including working with the Finance Authority of Maine and other potential lending partners. These new steps from the Governor build on the work done by the Mills Administration to prepare for and respond to COVID-19, including:
- Convening a Coronavirus Response Team, led by Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah and comprised of key individuals in the Mills Administration, to coordinate State government’s response across departments and local agencies and health authorities.
- Recommending the postponement of all non-essential large, indoor group gatherings in Maine of 250 or more attendees for the next 30 days in an effort to implement social distancing measures, which are one of the most effective strategies to prevent community spread of coronavirus.
- Declaring a health insurance emergency to require health insurance carriers providing health care coverage in Maine’s commercial market to cover costs related to coronavirus testing and increases access to care.
- Directing the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to issue emergency rules to ensure MaineCare does not charge copays for office visits and prescription drugs that may be needed for COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment, and to allow for a prescription refill of up to 90 days so people have to make fewer visits to pharmacies.
- Issuing guidance to long-term care facilities (PDF) across Maine stating they should ask all visitors and staff to enter through one clearing point and to confirm they: 1) have no signs or symptoms of respiratory infection such as fever, cough or sore throat; 2) have not traveled within the last 14 days to restricted countries; 3) have not had any contact with someone with known COVID-19 or a person under investigation for COVID-19.
- Distributing personal protective equipment to first responders and health care professionals across Maine as it becomes available.
- Temporarily suspending non-essential, out-of-state travel for all State employees and reviewing leave policies and telecommuting options.
- Apply for and receiving a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow schools the ability to provide meals offsite to students, if the school or community currently has, or qualifies for, a USDA Summer Food Service Program.
- Urging Maine schools to continue to prepare for the possibility of mandated closures.
- Launching a 211 option for Mainers to get answers to questions about COVID-19 at any time. This service is available by dialing 211 (or 1-866-811-5695), texting your ZIP code to 898-211, or emailing email@example.com.
Governor Mills and members of her Administration are working around the clock to prepare emergency legislation and respond to the issues presented by COVID-19 with the goal on minimizing its impact on Maine people and reducing its spread.
There are now three presumptive positive tests and three preliminary presumptive positive tests under review.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, shortness of breath, and lower respiratory distress. Individuals who exhibit those symptoms are advised to contact medical providers before going to a health care facility. Medical providers will make initial determinations about who should be tested. Maine people can protect their health by taking the same preventive measures that help to avoid catching a cold: Wash your hands often for 20 seconds. Cover coughs and sneezes. Stay home if you are sick.
For more information on Maine’s response to COVID-19 and updated testing results, visit the Maine CDC website.