Maine has spent or committed nearly all of the $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief provided to the state this year, leaving it vulnerable to a “perfect storm” unless Congress provides more funding and flexibility.

As of mid-November, the Mills administration had committed more than $1.2 billion of the state’s $1.25 billion share in federal CARES Act funding, with more than half flowing to unemployed Mainers or to businesses. Not every penny of that money had been disbursed, however, and states stand to lose whatever remains after Dec. 31 unless Congress acts quickly to extend the timeline.

It is unclear whether Republican and Democratic leaders will end a months-long stalemate to pass an additional COVID-19 relief package during the lameduck Congress, although both of Maine’s senators say they are involved in bipartisan talks on a compromise.

The additional uncertainty comes at a time when COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are surging across Maine and the nation. State health officials reported 249 new cases and three additional deaths on Monday as Maine’s testing positivity rate climbed to just shy of 4 percent, quadruple the seven-day average from one month ago.

Gov. Janet Mills warned members of Maine’s congressional delegation that continued, uninterrupted federal support into next year will be “critical” to maintaining the state’s coronavirus testing and vaccination network.

“We are looking straight into the eyes of a perfect storm: evaporation of the funding used for our COVID-19 testing infrastructure, diminished supply of testing materials, inadequate support for vaccine development, and inequitable distribution of the vaccine,” Mills wrote to the delegation in a Nov. 25 letter. “The continued operation of Maine’s network of COVID-19 testing locations and laboratories, currently supported in large part by CRF (Coronavirus Relief Funds) and other portions of the CARES Act, will be necessary well beyond the expiration of funding in 2020.”


All told, Maine has received more than $7.4 billion from the federal government to support businesses, governments and individuals since the pandemic began in March. More than one-quarter of that sum went to businesses in the form of forgivable loans through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Maine state government’s share of the Coronavirus Relief Funds within the CARES Act came out to $1.25 billion. While states were were only allowed to use that money for “necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency,” they were given flexibility to decide how to spend it.

As of mid-November, the Mills administration has spent $294 million to replenish the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, both to keep the fund solvent and to avoid employers seeing a dramatic spike in unemployment taxes down the road. Another $203 million was earmarked for grants to businesses and nonprofits that lost revenue or saw expenses increase during the pandemic.

The next-largest chunk, $161.3 million, was set aside for state government agencies whose workload or expenses rose because of the pandemic. That includes increased overtime and staff expansions at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health or public safety agencies as well as temporary staff in the Maine Department of Labor’s unemployment division.

Other expenditures included:

• $8.4 million in subsidies to help childcare centers reopen safely.


• $364.8 million to help K-12 schools cover technology, transportation, staffing and personal protective equipment costs.

• $48 million for municipal or tribal governments.

• $15 million for rental assistance to prevent pandemic-related evictions.

• $35 million to purchase PPE for distribution to hospitals, nursing homes and other health care settings.

• $1 million for infection control at congregate care settings other than nursing homes.

• $916,000 to purchase seafood directly from fishermen for distribution to food pantries through Good Shepherd Food Bank.


On Monday, the Mills administration announced an additional $40 million in grants for hotels, restaurants, bars and retail shops impacted by the pandemic. And last week, the administration earmarked an additional $536,000 to Meals on Wheels, which has seen demand for food deliveries double since the spring.

“Meanwhile, with the virus continuing to spread across the state, the need for direct financial relief continues to far outpace available CRF funds,” Mills’ office said in a statement. “Through the National Governors Association, Governor Mills has joined with her fellow governors of both parties from across the country to call not only for additional federal funding but for additional flexibility in the funding already awarded, which expires at the end of the year.”

Attorney General Aaron Frey, meanwhile, joined more than 40 of his colleagues from across the country in urging Congress to allow CARES Act funding to be used on expenses incurred after Dec. 30.

“This time frame likely made sense in late March when the CARES Act was passed, but we have learned a great deal about COVID-19 in the past seven months,” reads the letter from the attorneys general to congressional leaders. “Among other things, we know that the pandemic will continue to challenge communities well beyond December 30, 2020 – a deadline that now seems unreasonable.”

Maine’s two members of the Senate, Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Angus King, said Monday that they are both engaged in bipartisan discussions on potential relief packages.

Saying Congress had “no higher priority than passing another COVID-19 relief bill in December,” Collins said she had daily discussions over Thanksgiving weekend with two groups of senators working on a package – one of them a No Labels group she leads with West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, and another involving eight senators from both parties.


“The two groups are taking a slightly different approach, but all of us agree that we need a second round of the Paycheck Protection Program, my number one priority, so that small businesses that have been particularly hard-hit can get a second forgivable PPP loan to help them stay afloat and continue paying their employees,” Collins said in a statement. “Any COVID-19 relief package must also include more resources to support testing and vaccine distribution, municipalities and schools, child care, struggling families, and the U.S. Postal Service. Moreover, we need to provide targeted assistance to lobstermen, fishermen, farmers, and loggers as well as to the aviation and motorcoach industries.”

King, meanwhile, said Congress’s inability to pass another coronavirus relief package is “legislative malpractice, plain and simple.”

An independent who caucuses with the Democrats, King blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, for the inaction. While House Democrats and the Trump White House agreed on a $2 trillion package earlier this year, McConnell countered with a $500 billion proposal and “has wasted months processing judicial nominees when he should have been doing the business of the American people.”

“Point blank, the pandemic and our economic crisis are not separate challenges,” King said in a statement. “They are entirely woven together, and we must confront both of them to get our country physically and financially healthy. There’s so much we need to do with this package – including extending enhanced unemployment benefits; increasing our support for small businesses, healthcare providers, and schools; and providing additional funds for the state and local governments that have led the response to this crisis.”

Later Monday evening, King joined more than 20 Democratic senators in a letter urging McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, to add more weeks to two pandemic-related unemployment programs. Both programs are set to expire on Dec. 26, ending benefits for an estimated 12 million Americans the day after Christmas.

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