In the coming days, Maine lawmakers will direct over $1 billion in federal recovery funds from the American Rescue Plan intended to rebuild the state after a debilitating pandemic and sharp recession. The federal Department of the Treasury is clear that these resources must prioritize people and communities most harmed. While the governor’s proposal includes many initiatives for businesses and infrastructure, several of these proposed uses are not well targeted to promote economic recovery for the Mainers most affected by COVID-19.

Throughout the pandemic, numerous Maine households and businesses have faced serious consequences, including intensified housing and food insecurity, greater challenges securing child and elder care, increased health issues and loss of livelihood for tens of thousands of people. But certain industries, workers and populations – including communities of color – have borne the brunt of these economic impacts and should be prioritized in the state’s distribution of federal recovery funding.

This massive $1 billion – an amount that is nearly equal to the state’s annual investment in public schools – has the potential to dismantle barriers that have caused Mainers of color and households with low income to suffer disproportionately in the wake of a public health crisis. Appropriate allocation of this money should increase access to health care for people and communities that had the greatest COVID-19 transmission rates, including Black and immigrant Mainers; establish targeted business supports for industries that experienced the greatest loss in profits, and rebuild and strengthen important elements of the economy such as child care that suffered increased costs and reduced availability of services during the pandemic.

While Black immigrant communities suffered the highest rates of COVID-19 cases and immigrants are more likely to be employed in frontline industries such as direct care, food service and cleaning, immigrant Mainers were barred from MaineCare coverage. Lawmakers restored coverage for pregnant women and children last month and should use federal funds to restore coverage for adults.

Because of factors including lack of access to credit and wealth as a result of systemic racism, or simply being too new to qualify for the supports offered by federal programs, many businesses need additional help to fully recover from the past year. Federal funds should facilitate grants and other solutions such as helping business owners with diverse backgrounds recover from the recession and workforce development efforts that prioritize communities of color and unemployed workers.

As facilities closed and costs increased, many parents and caregivers struggled to find care for children and aging adults. Lawmakers should invest in building more child care centers, improving wages for staff and helping parents afford quality care for their children. Similarly, lawmakers should provide grants and increase resources to assist with respite care and adaptive technologies that support caretakers who work tirelessly to keep loved ones safe.

Other proposed uses for this funding would not have similar direct impacts for Mainers hit the hardest by the coronavirus. For example, depositing money into the Unemployment Insurance trust fund in order to reduce the tax rate paid by Maine employers is a poorly targeted solution, especially when all signs point to an economic recovery and a return to net increases in the fund through the usual payroll contributions. And although health insurance premiums in the small-group market have risen substantially in recent years, it is not clear whether the proposal to reduce premiums for small employers will offer substantial relief or help Mainers most in need afford care.

Beyond channeling resources into Maine communities and households, these federal recovery dollars have the potential to address inequality and spur a recovery that fixes the cracks in our society where too many people fell during the coronavirus outbreak. One of the most evident lessons of the pandemic is that our health and economic well-being are bound together, and that we can all become weaker when some people are left behind. If Maine takes this opportunity to invest in a more equitable recovery, we will all emerge stronger.

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