Budget committee votes on once-in-a-lifetime investment in working Maine families, businesses and communities

AUGUSTA – On Wednesday, the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee voted on a once-in-a-lifetime investment in Maine children, workers, families, businesses, and communities, using unallocated federal funds directed to Maine through the American Rescue Plan Act. The vote was 8-4, with one member absent.
The Chairs of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee released the following statements, celebrating these transformational investments in the future of the state:

Senator Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth: 
“With the passage of LD 1733, Maine is poised not only to recover from the pandemic but to thrive in the coming years. Investments in people, workforce development, child care, health care, and infrastructure for new and legacy home-grown industries offer enormous opportunities for growth. And those opportunities will be shared in a more equitable and sustainable way than ever before.”
Representative Teresa Pierce: 
“When you get the chance to make a transformational investment in your state, you step up to the plate. Through this bill, Maine will build hundreds of units of affordable housing, address homelessness, support and champion our community colleges and public universities and make sure our workforce has the tools they need to succeed through Maine’s economic recovery and beyond. In Maine, we’ve been working on this for months to make sure local voices would be heard in this process. This bill was the chance for the Legislature to weigh in on the pandemic-related issues we’ve heard from our constituents during hundreds of public hearings throughout the year.”
The federal American Rescue Plan Act provides $350 billion in emergency funding for eligible state, local, territorial and Tribal governments to respond to the COVID-19 emergency and bring back jobs. In total, the American Rescue Plan Act invests approximately $4.5 billion in Maine. Of this $4.5 billion, Congress has directly committed nearly $3.2 billion to various recovery efforts, including significant support for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, enhanced unemployment benefits, stimulus payments to families, and funds for businesses, Maine counties, municipalities, education, behavioral health, child care, and more. The remaining $983 million is allocated to the state of Maine to respond to the pandemic and support economic recovery. 
  • Expanding access to child care and public preschool. LD 1733 creates a $10 million grant program for child care providers to support efforts to renovate, expand or build new child care facilities to increase access to quality, affordable child care in Maine. The bill also would create a $10 million grant program to expand the number of public Pre-K programs throughout the state.
  • Preparing our children for good-paying jobs. LD 1733 makes significant investments in career exploration programs, career technical education, apprenticeships, workforce training programs, and higher education to help young Mainers identify one of the many pathways to good-paying jobs and a successful future here in Maine. 
    • Expand the Maine Career Exploration Program for K-12: $20 million
    • Train workers through Maine’s CTEs: $20 million
    • Train workers through Maine’s University & Community College Systems: $45 million
  • Opening up new economic recovery grants. LD 1733 creates $20 million in additional economic recovery grants to support businesses and organizations still struggling to rebound from the economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. These grants target businesses and organizations that may not have been eligible for previous relief and grant programs. The goal is to ensure no small business or organization falls through the gaps.
  • Attracting qualified workers to fill workforce shortages. LD 1733 looks to fill longstanding gaps in Maine’s workforce that have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It dedicates $5 million to Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development to attract and retain qualified workers to live, work, raise a family and eventually retire here in Maine. 
  • Fostering new economic opportunities. LD 1733 aims to support entrepreneurship and new business ventures by increasing access to research and development grants, offering technical assistance, and cutting bureaucratic red tape. The goal is to help more Mainers of all backgrounds, genders, and ethnicities to become small business owners.
  • Lowering the cost of health care for small businesses. LD 1733 establishes a new program within the Maine Bureau of Insurance to help small business owners afford small group health insurance as their business recovers from financial setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bolstering Maine’s Heritage Industries. From our working waterfronts to our forests and farms, Maine’s heritage industries have powered our communities for generations, constantly evolving to tap into new markets, overcome new challenges and create good-paying jobs. The ingenuity and resilience of Maine farmers and fishermen have resulted in a world-class local foods market and successful partnerships with restaurants in Maine and throughout the United States. Here’s what LD 1733 means for Maine farmers, fishermen, and foresters: 
  • LD 1733 provides $20 million for immediate investments in Maine’s farms and food processors, which will drive growth and support sustainability among businesses within the agricultural community. This funding will help bolster and reinforce our state’s food system by increasing capacity in a manner that allows for more Maine-grown products to be processed and sold locally, decreasing our reliance on food imported from other states, while also expanding Maine’s export economy. 
  • LD 1733 sets aside $20 million to help workers and small businesses within the forest products industry rebuild their businesses and prepare for the future.
  • LD 1733 sets aside funds to support good-paying jobs in the forest products industry, lower energy costs, and meet Maine’s aggressive climate goals.
  • LD 1733 allocates $10 million to the Department of Marine Resources for grants targeting seafood processors and dealers to upgrade or replace aging or failing infrastructure or re-engineer and retool facilities, in response to product line changes or safety protocols necessary as a result of COVID-19. 
  • Making sure Maine patients can access health care professionals. LD 1733 takes steps to reduce the shortage of medical professionals in all areas of the state to ensure that Maine residents can see a medical professional in their hour of need. It funds  Doctors for Maine’s Future Scholarship program, which provides scholarships to medical students at the Maine-based University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine (UNECOM) and the Tufts Medical School Maine Track program. In order to receive the Doctors for Maine’s Future scholarship, students must have a strong connection to Maine and at least one year of residence in Maine for a purpose other than education. Preference is given to candidates who have graduated from a Maine high school, received a bachelor’s degree from a Maine college or university, or whose parents live in Maine.
  • Supporting essential care workers. LD 1733 creates a stackable credential program for health care workers to professionalize this field, supports the extraordinary Mainers already doing this important work, and reduces staff shortages for long-term and direct care work. This program will allow direct care workers to access additional training programs and advance professionally.
  • Recruiting Maine’s nursing home and hospital workforce. LD 1733 will invest $2.5 million in attracting workers to needed positions within Maine’s health care system. This fund is meant to address the growing need for direct care workers in our state.  
  • Supports older Mainers and their family caregivers. LD 1733 will provide critical support to the families who provide home care for a relative with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia many of whom were not eligible for other kinds of aid, through a pilot program. 
  • Strengthens nurse training programs. LD 1733 will invest $1 million in Maine’s nurses by setting up a loan repayment program for nursing educators.
  • Increasing access to reliable, high-speed internet. High-speed internet isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity to compete in the economy, access education, and connect with the world. LD 1733 would invest $21 million in the Maine Connectivity Authority for the expansion of affordable broadband, with a focus on historically disadvantaged areas and populations, to ensure Maine students, workers, businesses, and communities aren’t left behind.
  • Building affordable housing to keep workers, families, and seniors in our communities. LD 1733 will dedicate $50 million to the construction of new affordable housing for Maine’s workforce. It will also allow Maine State Housing Authority to refinance Part E housing bonds, providing $32M in more affordable housing funds.
  • Weatherization and efficiency upgrades. LD 1733 will allow families to access cost-saving weatherization and efficiency updates that will improve Maine’s housing stock as a whole. This $50 million will support many families who had to let home improvements take a back seat during the pandemic for financial reasons will be impacted by these funds. 
  • Protecting the health of working Maine families. Maine will increase access to arsenic testing statewide and ensure renters can access water testing information from their landlords.
  • Clean drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. LD 1733 will provide mitigation for PFAS in drinking water at schools and child care facilities plus cover upgrades to critical infrastructure from supply sources to treatment facilities, pump stations, pipes, storage tanks, septic systems, and culverts.
  • Investing in Maine’s Emergency Alert System. LD 1733 invests $10 million to replace existing infrastructure necessary to carry out the Maine Emergency Manage Agency’s Emergency Alert System mission. A failure to upgrade this system would put Mainers at risk in the event of a large-scale public health or weather emergency.
  • Supports the transition of military families to civilian life in Maine. Veterans have asked for personalized and proactive support for active-duty military members who are transitioning to civilian life in Maine. As part of statewide efforts to encourage veterans to relocate here, this $200,000 will support those transitions to Maine. 
  • Supporting our state parks and outdoor economy. LD 1733 invests $50 million to maintain our state park system and continue land conservation efforts that provide outdoor recreation spaces for our communities and bring millions in tourist dollars into our economy. 
Governor Janet Mills unveiled her priorities for the unallocated ARPA funding back in May before introducing LD 1733 at a public hearing on June 6 shortly after the US Department of Treasury released formal spending guidance. The amended version of LD 1733 will now go before the Legislature for a vote on Monday, July 19.

Sign up for my weekly update.

Don’t miss the latest news from Troy!