Maine residents who worked through the coronavirus pandemic could get a check for up to $300 from the state this year as part of a budget proposal the Legislature is expected to vote on Wednesday.

The “hazard payment” would be available to full-time residents who filed state income tax returns for 2020 and who earned a federally adjusted gross income of less than $75,000 as an individual, less than $112,000 as a head of household or less than $150,000 for those filing jointly.

The proposal is part of an $8.5 billion biennial budget agreement reached by the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee Sunday that also raises municipal revenue sharing to 5 percent by fiscal year 2023 and would provide 55 percent state funding for K-12 education for the first time.

“We were pleased we are getting some tax relief out to Mainers,” said House Minority Leader Rep. Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford. “It has been something that was definitely a priority for Republicans in our caucuses, so we’re happy to see this compromise in the budget document.”

Republicans had previously sought a $10,200 tax exemption for people who worked through the pandemic, a proposal that would have cost the state $300 million. The direct payments, which will come in the form of a check likely to be issued by December, represent a compromise with Democrats that instead that will cost about $150 million.

The COVID Disaster Relief Payment Fund would be drawn from a previously unappropriated surplus from the general fund.

The payment could be as much as $300, depending on how many people are eligible, and would be exempt from Maine state income tax. The state is currently estimating about 500,000 eligible filings.

Anyone who filed an income tax return as a full-year resident in 2020 and received wages, salaries, tips or other taxable employee pay during that tax year is eligible, with the exception of those who are considered dependents.

The budget proposal approved by the appropriations committee Sunday builds off an earlier baseline budget approved by the Legislature in March. That budget is scheduled to go into effect July 1. If the proposal approved by the appropriations committee Sunday gains the support of two-thirds of the Legislature and is signed by the governor, it would go into effect immediately. If the proposal passes by a lesser amount, it would take effect in 90 days.

Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, Senate chair of the appropriations committee, said Democrats on the committee supported the relief payments, which would be “very close to” if not at $300.

“So many people were working throughout the pandemic and they made a lot of sacrifices to keep the economy going and keep people fed,” Breen said. “(The Republicans) wanted to do something to recognize those efforts and we talked initially about an income tax deduction, but it just seemed more impactful to send a check.”

Dillingham said Monday that it’s too early to say where members of her caucus stand in regard to the package approved over the weekend. “We just caucused this morning so for many of my members it’s all new information,” she said. “The budget document itself isn’t printed yet so they want to make sure they have a chance to look at the entire budget document.”

Rep. Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, a member of the appropriations committee, said the package represents a “good compromise” and the COVID relief payments are intended to reward people who worked during the pandemic. “Even though some of them were absolutely terrified, they still did it because we needed them,” she said.

“I don’t blame some of my colleagues who will vote against the change package because it does grow government and it does add positions which we will have to fund year after year,” Arata said. “I understand their frustration with growth in government but I think it’s a good compromise and I’m really happy to be part of the bipartisan package we’re putting forward.”

 


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