Maine state government has dedicated more than a billion dollars in federal relief funds provided to the state this spring in advance of a year-end deadline to spend the money.

The last $6.8 million was committed to fund a partnership between the government and Idexx Laboratories in Westbrook that vastly expanded Maine’s testing capacity, Gov. Janet Mills said Friday in a statement.

“Maine’s response to COVID-19, including our game-changing partnership with Idexx and our small business recovery, education and housing grants, would not have been possible without federal relief,” Mills said.

Maine received $1.25 billion of coronavirus relief funds this spring as part of the CARES Act emergency aid package passed by Congress in March. Similar funding was provided to all 50 states, with a Dec. 30 deadline to spend the money. The relief funds were restricted for use on COVID-19 related costs.

State government spent hundreds of millions of dollars from the fund to assist small businesses, refund unemployment insurance and prepare schools to reopen this fall. Smaller amounts were used to pay state and local government costs, buy personal protective and testing equipment, provide housing assistance and fund other initiatives.

Negotiations on a new congressional relief package have been stalled for months, and fresh aid for local and state governments, a Democratic demand, has been a major sticking point for Republican leadership, which wants liability protection for businesses.

Relief funds are expiring as more people in Maine are getting sick and dying from COVID-19 than in the spring, when uncertainty and fear about the pandemic was at its height.

“With all our (relief) funding committed and scheduled to sunset at the end of this month, and with the virus spreading dangerously in Maine and across the country, I urge Congress to provide continued pandemic relief for Maine people and to offer flexibility for any existing funds,” Mills said.

The largest single commitment from the fund, almost $365 million, was spent to help public K-12 schools prepare to reopen this autumn according to a summary report from the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services. The money was dedicated to personal protective equipment, modifications, increased transportation and instruction costs, and improved internet service for students.

The second-largest funding commitment was $295 million to rebuild the state’s unemployment trust fund. The fund, normally supported by employer payroll taxes, was depleted this spring amid a tsunami of jobless claims.

A further $243 million was directed to small business grants. About 3,500 businesses hurt the most by poor economic conditions received grants in two phases, and $40 million in targeted funding to hospitality, tourism and entertainment businesses was launched last month.

More than $158 million was committed to reimburse personnel costs, such as overtime and hazard pay at state agencies, and for contractors substantially dedicated to the public health emergency. Another $12 million was spent for state testing supplies and a public health campaign, and nearly $12 million more paid for protective equipment for state workers and facility costs for agencies.

There is an urgent need for continued federal relief to the state as coronavirus cases put an increasing burden on its healthcare resources, said state Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew in a statement.

“Moreover, while we stand ready to begin distributing COVID-19 vaccine, federal officials have previously indicated that they will not offer states additional funding,” Lambrew said. “Federal funding is vital to the success of this monumental undertaking in Maine and across the country.”

Municipal governments were granted $35 million to reimburse their share of Federal Emergency Management Agency-approved expenses and another $13 million for local public health campaigns.

Health care businesses were provided $31.8 million for protective equipment, and $1 million was provided for infection control training at some congregate care facilities.

Rental assistance for Maine residents was funded with more than $21 million, and this week the Mills administration announced a one-time $600 payment to as many as 42,000 unemployed Mainers funded with $25.4 million in relief funds. Meal delivery services for the poor and food banks received smaller amounts.

Some of the expenses may need to be recommitted if they cannot be incurred by the end of the month, a requirement of the relief funds, the administration said in a news release.

“Amid changing guidance from the U.S. Treasury on … eligible activities, global supply chain backlogs, and expiration of funding later this month well ahead of any clear victory against the virus, we continue to monitor (relief) commitments and will readjust and draw down funds through to the end as necessary,” said state Administrative and Financial Services Commissioner Kirsten Figueroa.


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