Democratic delegation from Central Maine joins bipartisan effort to support Mainers during coronavirus pandemic

Posted: March 17, 2020 | Senator Bellows

The Democratic Legislative delegation from Central Maine voted in favor of a number of bills Tuesday that will help support Maine people and businesses impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic, also known as COVID-19. These bills received broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and House.

Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, released the following statement:

“Together, we showed a unity of purpose and commitment to helping Mainers help one another in this crisis. I’m proud that my efforts to increase reimbursement rates for home care and nursing to protect our seniors and people with disabilities were included in our emergency budget. I’m also pleased that my efforts were successful to allow towns like Pittston and West Gardiner to postpone upcoming town meetings to keep people safe.”

Reps. Betty Austin, D-Skowhegan, Donna Doore, D-Augusta, Thom Harnett, D-Gardiner, Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville, Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, Catherine Nadeau, D-Winslow, Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, Bruce White, D-Waterville, released the following statement:

“The global outbreak of COVID-19 has not only brought health concerns, it has brought anxiety about our economy and the many unknowns that could affect our families. In central Maine we support each other, and we want to support you as much as we possibly can. Today we put laws in place to address many of the obstacles that may come our way, but our work will not end here. We will continue to work with the Governor and to advocate for any actions that will relieve the stress on our communities as we navigate this situation.”

Measures passed Tuesday include provisions to:

  • Cut red tape and temporarily expand eligibility for unemployment benefits for workers impacted by COVID-19 without charging the experience rating of employers;
  • Establish a consumer loan guarantee program through FAME, in partnership with financial institutions, to provide low- or no- interest loans for impacted Mainers including small businesses;
  • Increase investments in home care, public health nursing and MaineCDC testing capacity among other vital investments to resolve our public health crisis; 
  • Streamline licensing requirements for medical professionals to deploy where they are needed;
  • Continue school lunch programs for all eligible children while schools are closed and allow the Maine Department of Education to waive school-day requirements;
  • Allocate more funding for child protective services to protect our most vulnerable children in this crisis;
  • Allow towns to postpone town meetings and operate under current budgets and allow Governor Mills to adjust state, county and municipal government deadlines and to permit additional flexibility for municipal and school board budgets; 
  • Permit all public entities except the Legislature to meet by remote participation;
  • Authorize Gov. Mills to prohibit utilities from terminating residential electric and water service;
  • Delaying the effective date of the single-use plastic bag ban to January 15, 2021

The consumer loan program goes through local banks and credit unions, with loans backed by the state. Mainers who have been economically impacted by the pandemic can obtain zero interest personal loans, of up to $5,000 per month for up to three months.

In addition, Gov. Janet Mills has declared an insurance emergency and a state of civil emergency to help state agencies respond to the public health crisis quickly and effectively. 

The insurance emergency ensures that all health insurance plans will cover 100% of the cost of testing for COVID-19, with absolutely no cost sharing to the consumer. Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services has released guidelines to help Mainers without insurance get tested at low or no cost. Those guidelines can be found here

The state of civil emergency, declared Sunday, March 15, makes the following recommendations:

  • Ending classroom instruction in all public schools as soon as reasonably practical.
  • Postponing all non-urgent medical procedures, elective surgeries, and appointments at hospitals and health care providers across the state.
  • Restricting visitors and all non-essential health care personnel to long-term care facilities except for certain compassionate care situations, such as end of life.
  • Postponing all events with 50 or more people, and all gatherings of more than 10 that include individuals who are at higher risk for severe illness, such as seniors. Shortly after her announcement, the national CDC made the same recommendation for the next 8 weeks.

The Governor’s recommendations are in effect until further notice.

At the end of Tuesday, the Maine Legislature adjourned sine die, until further notice. To help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the State House will be closed to the public until March 30.