The $850 checks passed as part of the most recent supplemental budget deal will begin arriving in the mailboxes of eligible Mainers next week, according to Gov. Janet Mills’ administration.
A June 1 press release announced the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS) would post an initial round of 5,000 checks on June 2. The department then expects to release an additional 200,000 checks each week, “with the vast majority of qualifying Maine people expected to receive their check by mid-July.”
The department also reported that the state treasurer’s office has confirmed it has enough envelopes to distribute the checks. The Portland Press Herald reported a day before the initial release of the checks was announced that Maine Revenue Services (MRS) was facing an envelope shortage that could possibly delay the release of some checks.
The legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs (AFA) Committee met on May 31 to consider a waiver request of the 30-day waiting period for a financial order making funds for the checks available. The order increased the allotment in the fund for the relief checks for the current fiscal year beyond the amount approved by the legislature.
The legislature approved $729.3 million for the program, with $320.9 million allocated in the current fiscal year and $408.4 million allocated in fiscal year 2022-2023.
During the meeting, Jenny Boyden, associate commissioner of DAFS, stated that Maine Revenue Services (MRS) would begin processing payments in early June and anticipated it has the capacity to process 200,000 checks per week.
“That would mean 800,000 of the 858,000 [checks] could go out in June,” said Boyden.
However, Boyden also said producing checks at this volume would mean MRS would exceed its allocation for the current fiscal year by the second week of processing. The agency requested an additional fiscal allotment of the amount allocated to the agency in fiscal year 2023 in order to process all payments “as soon as administratively feasible.”
“Assuming there are no glitches, we could send out a significant portion of the checks by the end of June,” said Boyden.
Boyden said MRS will continue processing payments into fiscal year 2023.
Boyden also addressed the potential of an envelope shortage, saying this could slow down processing.
“We ordered 800,000 envelopes in February. While we were expecting them before now, the vendor is telling us it may be late June, early July. We have approximately 250,000 envelopes on hand and will use those until they are gone. The Office of the State Treasurer has envelopes we will use as a contingency. We continue to work with the Division of Procurement Services and the vendor to understand and, if possible, mitigate any delay.”
The committee voted 10 to 0 to waive the normal 30-day waiting period for financial orders, allowing checks to go out immediately.
To be eligible to receive a check, Mainers must have filed an individual tax return as a full-time resident in 2021 and not be claimed as a dependent. Individuals either single or filing separately from their spouse whose adjusted gross income was less than $100,000 are eligible to receive the check, as are individuals filing as head of household whose income was less than $150,000 and married couples filing jointly who earned less than $200,000.
The Mills administration touted the program, which it said “is considered one of the strongest relief programs in the country,” citing a story from Fortune, as a way to help “an estimated 858,000 Maine people with the high costs of inflation.”
“The budgets of so many hardworking Maine people have been stretched to the brink by inflation, and while we cannot control inflation or global markets, we can make sure that Maine people have what they need to grapple with these rising costs,” Mills said in a press release.
Mills also touted the collaboration in the legislature that helped pass the checks through the supplemental budget. In total, the checks account for approximately $729.3 million in spending, more than half of the $1.2 budget surplus that formed the basis of the supplemental budget.
“Through hard work, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents came together to do what is right for Maine people, and, today, I am proud to say that help is on the way. I hope that this will provide at least a small measure of relief during these tough times,” Mills said.
Sen. Jeff Timberlake (R-Androscoggin), the Senate minority leader, said his caucus is disappointed checks will not be transmitted electronically but pleased the process to return money to taxpayers has begun.
“While we’re disappointed the Mills Administration has chosen to send Maine residents their tax refunds by paper checks versus electronically, we are pleased to hear the process will start this week and the plan is to have them distributed to all those currently eligible by the end of June,” Timberlake said.
“As you know, it has been a priority of Republicans to ‘Give it Back’ to Maine’s people, and this is a step toward fulfilling that pledge along with tax reform. We also urge Gov. Mills to not include a letter that would make the checks political and go against the bipartisan effort that made the payments possible,” Timberlake continued.
Republicans lobbied for the relief payments to be made electronically during the recent legislative session. A proposal by Rep. Sawin Millett (R-Waterford) to amend the part of the governor’s budget proposal that referenced relief payments and make them electronically depositable failed in March to advance out of the AFA committee.
Millett again raised the question of electronic transfers during the May 31 AFA committee meeting, asking if MRS had the capacity to deposit checks electronically as a way to mitigate the potential of an envelope shortage.
Boyden said that, to the best of her knowledge, all checks are going out as paper checks and that the constraints of electronic deposits had been discussed during the legislative session.
Rep. Kathleen Dillingham (R-Oxford), the House Republican leader, said that her caucus was “pleased that the Governor and legislators from both parties responded to our call for returning over-collected tax revenues to the people,” but is disappointed their proposal for electronic deposits was unsuccessful.
Dillingham also pushed back on calling the payments “relief checks.”
“It is important to note we believe calling these funds ‘relief checks’ is disingenuous. It is taxpayer money that has been collected from the Maine people in excess of what is needed to fund state government. The money is being returned to the people it was collected from, Maine taxpayers, instead of being used to expand state government,” Dillingham said.