Coronavirus

Gov. Mills’ business relief package too little, too late for many small businesses

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Maine Gov. Janet Mills announced Thursday the creation of a new small business grant program to provide relief to struggling small businesses impacted by economic shutdown she ordered in late March in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The Mills administration is allocating $200 million of the $1.2 billion Maine received in the federal CARES Act to provide this support.

While any investment in struggling small businesses is welcomed, its arrival in late August begs the question: What took the Mills administration so long?

For months, the administration has been begging and pleading with the federal government to bail us out of our unsustainable budget. With each extension of her emergency declaration, the governor made clear the purpose of doing so was to keep Maine eligible for further federal relief funding, and has repeatedly stated the need for the federal government to loosen restrictions on how CARES Act funding can be spent by the states. Specifically, the administration wants the feds to remove regulatory language that prevents the funding from being used to backfill state revenue.

Maine Policy Institute has tracked an unofficial list of more than 80 permanent business closures since the start of the pandemic, along with the cancellation of roughly 25 prominent fairs and festivals on which many towns rely for tourism-related revenue. Dozens of small, family-owned businesses in Maine have permanently closed their doors already and could have used this support months ago, particularly businesses in the food service industry.

Other states, including New Hampshire, took steps to support small businesses much sooner. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced the creation of the “Main Street Relief Fund” program in June and made $400 million in CARES Act funds available to small businesses in the Granite State.

“Direct financial support for Maine employers to weather the disruption of COVID-19 is an urgent recommendation of the Governor’s Economic Recovery Committee,” Joshua Broder and Laurie Lachance, co-chairs of the committee, said Thursday. “We applaud Governor Mills and [the Department of Economic and Community Development] for moving quickly to launch this important program based on our work and urge our federal delegation to advocate for further employer relief through Congress.”

There’s nothing quick about sitting on millions in federal aid for several months while hoping to be bailed out of the hole she dug herself through reckless spending in the biennial budget. Nor did we need an “economic recovery committee” to tell us that small businesses would need financial relief to stay afloat after their government forced them to close. Businesses have until September 9 to apply for the relief, but those deemed eligible must also wait until October to receive the aid.

“My Administration will do all we can to support Maine’s small businesses through these difficult times,” Gov. Mills said Thursday.

Unfortunately, she waited too long to provide the relief many small businesses needed months ago. The governor’s announcement Thursday can be classified as “too little, too late.”  

If you own a small business in Maine impacted by the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the eligibility requirements for access to relief grants can be found here.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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