(From the Office of Governor Janet T. Mills) – Governor Janet Mills announced the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan’s first investments in Maine people, small businesses, and workforce, including $20 million for a new small business grant program, $39 million to help lower monthly health insurance premiums, and $80 million to replenish the Maine Unemployment Trust Fund, and mitigate tax hikes for small businesses.
The $139 million in investments come on the first day that the legislation enacting the Governor’s plan takes effect, reflecting the Governor’s commitment to delivering immediate support for Maine’s small businesses and workers as the state continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on Maine’s economy.
The Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan is the Governor’s plan, approved by the Legislature, to invest nearly $1 billion in American Rescue Plan funds to achieve three goals: immediate economic recovery from the pandemic; long-term economic growth for Maine; and infrastructure revitalization. It draws heavily on recommendations from the Governor’s Economic Recovery Committee and the State’s 10-Year Economic Development Strategy, transforming them into real action to improve the lives of Maine people and strengthen the economy.
“The health of Maine people, the health of our economy, and the health of our future depend on three things: our ability to put the pandemic behind us, our ability to tackle the economic challenges immediately in front of us, and the ability to solve the longstanding, systemic problems that have held us back for decades,” said Governor Janet Mills. “These initial investments, which deliver crucial financial relief to small businesses and Maine people, are a down-payment on these efforts. When combined with our forthcoming investments to rebuild our workforce, expand access to child care and housing, and support new, innovative industries, we will build a stronger state and a better economy that provides people with good-paying jobs, the opportunity to put down roots, and an unmatched quality of life.”
“These investments are critical for Maine businesses and the people they employ,” said Dana Connors, President and CEO of the Maine Chamber of Commerce. “Each initiative announced by the Governor today will make it that much easier for small businesses to recover from the pandemic, keep and put people to work in good-paying jobs, and strengthen our economy. I applaud the Mills Administration for their continued commitment to Maine’s business community and look forward to our partnership on the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan to tackle the serious issues confronting our economy, like our workforce shortage.”
“The pandemic has only made worse many of the longstanding problems inherent in our economy,” said Heather Johnson, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. “The Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan, which is based on the recommendations of economic experts and business and community leaders, will allow us to address short-term issues exacerbated by the pandemic while also working to solve Maine’s systemic, underlying challenges. We look forward to working with the private sector, non-profits and municipalities to implement this plan and make a real difference in the lives of Maine people.”
“The Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan, which demonstrates our Administration’s commitment to businesses and workers, will help us solve some of our state’s most serious problems that have limited our ability to grow and prosper,” said Laura Fortman, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor. “I applaud the Governor’s latest investment in the Unemployment Trust Fund, which keeps the fund solvent, ensures unemployment insurance is available if needed, and mitigates tax increases for Maine businesses. Unemployment insurance is an economic stabilizer for families and their communities, and this infusion of funds, along with the plan’s strong workforce initiatives, will substantially benefit Maine people.”
“Maine’s people and economy are embarking on a path toward better health and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic with the Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan taking effect today,” said Jeanne Lambrew, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. “The Governor’s bold plan helps small businesses provide affordable health care coverage to their workers, child care providers build new facilities to support Maine’s working families, and frontline health care providers attract, train, and retain a high-quality workforce to care for Maine people.”
The Maine Jobs & Recovery Small Business Grant Program
The Governor announced that her Administration is launching the Maine Jobs & Recovery Small Business Grant Program. The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development is putting forward $5 million of the $20 million allocated to the program in total for grants targeted at supporting capital intensive businesses that still need immediate short-term help to sustain operations.
More specifically, the $5 million will be put towards expense-based grant relief to help businesses and non-profits with significant expenses related to loans and interest they incurred in order to sustain operations. The loans must be in deferral as a direct result of the pandemic and the business must demonstrate at least 20 percent lost revenue in the year 2021. Applications for the program will open November 1, 2021.
The remaining $15 million will then be made available in April 2022 in order for businesses and non-profits to easily utilize tax returns to demonstrate financial impact of the pandemic on their businesses and, therefore, qualify for a funding based on need. This approach, stabilizing businesses most in need now followed by larger grants later on, was developed by DECD in conjunction with the business community.
This new program comes on top of the more than $273 million the Administration has already provided in Federal support to 5,224 businesses and non-profits during the pandemic.
Small Business Health Insurance Premium Relief Program
Governor Mills announced that her Administration has transferred $39 million to the Maine Bureau of Insurance to launch the Small Business Health Insurance Premium Relief Program. Beginning on November 1, 2021 and running through April 30, 2023, the program will help small businesses offer affordable health insurance to their workers – a critical benefit in recruiting and retaining workers as Maine recovers from the pandemic.
Under the program, health insurers will receive financial assistance through the Maine Bureau of Insurance to reduce premiums for their small business customers by $50 per covered employee per month. Relief increases for couples and families to $80 for one adult and a child, $100 for two adults, and $130 for two adults and a child. Small businesses then split these savings with their workers, based on the share of the total premium the employers and employees would otherwise pay. Employers could also choose to pass on more or all of the savings to their workers.
For example, a worker could see their monthly premium drop by $10 while their small business employer would save $40 if employees pay 20 percent and employers play 80 percent of premiums. That same employer could choose to pass on all $50 to their employees.
The program comes after monthly health insurance premiums in the small group market, which serves businesses with 50 or fewer employees, rose by about 33 percent from March 2017 to March 2020, while the number of people insured dropped 18 percent from 61,200 to 50,200. The pandemic, meanwhile, has hurt many small businesses, reducing their revenues at a time when they are confronting increased costs, including health insurance.
Replenish Maine Unemployment Trust Fund
Governor Mills announced that her Administration has transferred $80 million to Maine’s Unemployment Trust Fund, providing alternative funding for state unemployment benefits in order to mitigate tax increases on Maine small businesses.
This $80 million transfer is the Governor’s third infusion into the fund, building on two previous transfers totaling nearly $300 million. Without these investments from the Governor, the Maine Department of Labor estimates that employer unemployment taxes in both 2021 and 2022 likely would have more than doubled.
Additionally, as a result of the Governor’s responsible management, the Unemployment Trust Fund has remained solvent throughout the pandemic, unlike many other states across the nation whom have had to borrow billions of dollars from the Federal government in order to pay out benefits since the start of the pandemic. Those states then have to pay back the Federal government with interest.
There are approximately 45,000 employers in Maine that pay into the trust fund. The Maine Department of Labor has paid out more than $2.4 billion in benefits between March 15, 2020 and October 9, 2021 including more than $606 million in State funds with the rest coming from federal programs. During the week ending October 9, about 3,800 people received an unemployment benefit and weekly claims are at the lowest level since December 2019.
State unemployment insurance is paid to eligible Maine people through the state Unemployment Trust Fund, which is funded through employer taxes. Employers pay unemployment taxes on up to $12,000 in wages for each of their employees during the calendar year. The amount of tax employers pay is determined by a rate based in large part on what the trust fund balance is on September 30 and its ratio to previous years.
In coming weeks, the Mills Administration will continue to announce more Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan investments to address known, systemic challenges that have constrained Maine’s ability to grow and thrive, with priority focus on investments to grow and develop Maine’s workforce.
With more than $300 million in planned workforce investments through education and skills training programs, workforce housing, childcare, worker attraction, and business supports, the Jobs Plan aims to make a measurable impact on Maine’s workforce trends and build an economy poised for future growth.
Workforce investments in the Jobs Plan include $105 million for workforce programs at Maine schools, community colleges, and universities; $50 million for affordable and workforce housing, $20 million to expand Pre-K and childcare infrastructure, and programs targeted directly at addressing pressing workforce needs in health care and clean energy fields.
Other investments from the Jobs Plan include critical infrastructure investments, such as expanding broadband, enhancing state parks, accelerating weatherization and energy efficiency projects, and upgrading municipal storm water and drinking water projects.
Funding for the Jobs Plan is through the federal American Rescue Plan Act, which allocated $4.5 billion in stimulus funds to Maine earlier this year.
Coordination of the Jobs Plan is led by the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services and the Governor’s Office of Policy Innovation and the Future, through a new Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan Office.
This Office will oversee the transparent and accountable implementation of the Jobs Plan, including ensuring that proposed expenditures are permissible under U.S. Treasury eligibility guidance, the final version of which remains pending.