It is unclear how Maine’s Department of Labor would set up enhanced unemployment benefits outlined in President Trump’s weekend executive action, and the short-term measure does not go far enough to provide real relief for tens of thousands of jobless Mainers, Gov. Janet Mills said Monday.

“With the myriad legal and logistical questions these orders and memoranda raise, the president’s actions over the weekend appear to subordinate real relief for unemployed Americans to partisan gamesmanship, making Maine families a pawn in a cruel political game,” Mills said in a news release.

One of Trump’s executive memos, unveiled on Saturday, would use federal disaster-relief funds to pay out-of-work Americans an extra $400 per week. But states appear to have to voluntarily sign onto the program and pay 25 percent of the cost – $100 per week for each worker collecting unemployment benefits. Some Legislators have sharply criticized the legality and efficacy of the president’s actions.

Based on the roughly 80,000 Mainers on unemployment reported by the labor department last week, the state’s cost would be roughly $8 million for one week of expanded benefits.

The president’s action would enact a new program, but it is unclear how states are meant to implement it, Maine Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said, adding that her department intends to seek information about the unemployment expansion from the Trump administration.

“Many of the details of the order relating to unemployment are vague and include no information about how the program should be implemented or would work, raising serious concerns about the ability to deliver benefits to out-of-work Mainers in a timely manner,” Fortman said in a statement.


Maine already is facing a fiscal crisis that has prompted Mills to ask state department heads to cut spending by 10 percent. The Trump administration encouraged states to use part of the emergency relief fund they were granted in the CARES Act to pay for their share. Maine was provided $1.25 billion in relief funds from that law. The state retains much of that money, but has pledged $270 million to refund the depleted trust fund used to pay state unemployment benefits.

In an interview with CNBC on Sunday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the president also could decide to waive the 25 percent requirement for states that cannot afford it.

Mills said governors routinely urge the Trump administration during conference calls with the White House to support serious stimulus funds for small businesses, as well as state and local governments.

“Asking states now to take on additional expenses is unresponsive to these needs and threatens important programs and services,” she said.

The president issued his executive actions, including the unemployment benefits expansion, a payroll tax deferral through the end of the year, and an action directing federal agencies to examine housing and eviction protection, after negotiations between the White House and congressional Democrats for another proposed economic relief package broke down again on Friday.

The economic support included in the executive actions is insufficient, Mills said.


“Maine people need real solutions, not questionable, problematic actions,” she said. “Congress must step up, put aside the partisanship, and reach consensus on a comprehensive coronavirus relief package that meets the extensive challenges facing the American people.”

How companies would address the president’s payroll tax holiday also is unclear. One of the actions Trump took Saturday would defer the 7.65 percent tax on gross pay that employees earning $104,000 or less have taken from their biweekly paycheck. That money funds Social Security and Medicare and is matched by employers.

The deferral would last from Sept. 1 through the end of the year, but workers eventually would need to repay the money, unless Congress passes a law to permanently forgive the tax payments.

A number of Maine’s largest employers, including Hannaford Supermarkets, Bath Iron Works and L.L. Bean did not respond when asked whether the payroll tax deferral would be implemented.

MaineHealth, the state’s largest healthcare system and employer, is waiting for more information from the federal government before changing anything about its employees’ pay.

“We are aware of the president’s executive order and are waiting for the secretary of the Treasury to issue guidance as required by the executive order,” MaineHealth said in a statement.

Payroll processing company ADP said that it could take months for companies to adopt a system that eliminates the payroll tax, and that they may not want to defer payments without a guarantee the taxes will be forgiven, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

Health care system Northern Light Health said in a statement that it was still evaluating Trump’s executive action.

“This is still new information and we are trying to fully understand what the president’s weekend executive actions mean for us,” it said. “We are already working closely with the American Hospital Association to evaluate and hope to have more information in the coming days.”

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