Sen. Vitelli bill to revive entrepreneurship program receives unanimous, bipartisan support in committee
AUGUSTA – On Friday, a bill sponsored by Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, to restart an entrepreneurship program for unemployed Mainers was approved by the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee. LD 594, “Resolve, Directing the Department of Labor To Submit to the United States Secretary of Labor a Plan for a Self-employment Assistance Program,” which would revive the Maine Enterprise Option (MEO) program, passed committee with unanimous, bipartisan support.
“I’m very glad that the committee sees the value in bringing back the MEO program, especially at a time like this,” said Sen. Vitelli. “As we seek to rebuild our economy, we need to be encouraging the innovation, hard-work and creativity that goes into starting a small business. Small businesses are essential to the strength of our economy and the character of our communities, and the past year has shown how all of us suffer when they struggle. We should be doing all we can to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit of Maine people, giving them the support they need to succeed in building something of their own.”
The Maine Enterprise Option program was first implemented in March 1995 and operated successfully for almost 20 years before funding lapsed in 2013. The goal of MEO is to encourage Mainers who lost their jobs through no fault of their own to prepare to become self-employed while receiving unemployment insurance (UI). Rather than completing weekly work search activities to qualify for UI, MEO participants receive counseling in how to open a business.
MEO operated as a partnership between the Maine Department of Labor, the Small Business Development Centers and New Ventures Maine. In her previous role with New Ventures Maine, Sen. Vitelli helped manage the MEO program and saw first-hand how beneficial the program can be. A 2001 study conducted for the U.S. Department of Labor found that Maine MEO participants were more likely to start a business than non-participants. Of MEO participants, 62 percent went on to start a business, and one-third were still self-employed after 36 months. Successful small businesses started with assistance from MEO included a kettle corn maker and a small engine repair shop, among many others.
LD 594 now faces votes in the Senate and the House.