Sen. Bellows releases statement following Labor committee meeting
AUGUSTA – The Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee met on Thursday for a briefing on rental relief and housing security from the Maine State Housing Authority and to get an update on the state’s unemployment insurance system and to discuss worker safety issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Maine State Housing Authority Director Daniel Brennan addressed housing concerns raised by the committee by announcing a plan to extend the expired rental relief program. Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman did not appear before the committee despite ongoing issues with the unemployment system and reports of fraudulent claims in connection to an attack on the nation’s unemployment system.
Sen. Shenna Bellows released the following statement in response to the commissioner’s failure to appear before the committee:
“It’s been more than two months since the COVID-19 pandemic upended the lives of thousands of Maine workers and small businesses. All across the state, hardworking people found themselves without a job overnight and our unemployment system saw an unprecedented spike in unemployment cases. Back then, glitches and issues within the unemployment system were frustrating but understandable. We have passed the point. The outstanding cases, the continued issues and the lack of transparency are all unacceptable.
“I have always had a deep respect for Gov. Janet Mills and Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman. I know they care deeply about the people of this state. I just do not understand why Commissioner Fortman is not here with us today. I and other Democrats on this committee spoke out when Governor LePage refused to allow his Commissioner to come to our committee. It was wrong then. It’s wrong now. It’s unconscionable for any Administration to refuse to answer questions from constituents, who have reached out to us, their representatives, for help and are watching this committee meeting today.
“Maine is facing some of the greatest challenges our state has ever experienced. The way we solve this as Mainers is working together and coming up with creative, innovative solutions. We are looking to partner with the Administration on some of these issues. We want to share our expertise and what we’re hearing from constituents. We want to be allies. But we can’t be allies if we’re not a part of the conversation, especially if our concerns, or more importantly the concerns of our constituents are dismissed.
“Our job as lawmakers is to represent the people in our district to the best of our ability. It’s to answer questions, raise issues and elevate voices. I have a long list of questions from my constituents here. I have another list from my colleagues. I have another list of questions raised with me by hardworking employees inside the Department of Labor. This is unacceptable. It doesn’t respect the constituents whom we are here to represent today.”