Maine Lawmakers Propose $50M Relief Package for Businesses Affected by Storms

A group of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle is proposing the establishment of a relief program worth $50 million. The program aims to provide assistance to small businesses that have been adversely affected by the recent storms in Maine and other severe weather events.

A new bill has been proposed by Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, with support from lawmakers across party lines. The bill aims to create a “Small Business Weather Emergency Relief Program.” A request has been made for a substantial amount of $50 million to be allocated towards a relief fund. The Department of Economic and Community Development has been tasked with the responsibility of setting up eligibility criteria, application procedures, and a system to determine the amount of awards. All of this is expected to be completed by March 30.

Lawmakers have reached a consensus on how to address the aftermath of the Jan. 10 and Jan. 13 storms that resulted in severe flooding and damage along Maine’s coast. However, there is a difference of opinion between Democrats and Republicans regarding the role of climate change in determining the extent of relief efforts.

A pair of powerful storms wreaked havoc along the coast, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Homes, businesses, and lobster fishing infrastructure were all severely impacted. These storms arrived on the heels of a previous wind storm on December 18th, which caused extensive power outages, flooding, and approximately $20 million in damages to central and western Maine.

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Hickman introduced his bill in early January as a response to the December storm. He later revised it to address the storms that occurred this month. Hickman expressed his belief that it is the responsibility of the state to provide support to these businesses and maintain the stability of local economies, as he stated earlier this month.

A bill introduced after the deadline has gained support from a number of senators and representatives. Notable cosponsors include Senate President Troy Jackson, a Democrat from Allagash, and House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, a Republican from Winter Harbor. Recent severe weather-related events have had a significant impact on small business owners in Maine, particularly during their busiest revenue season.

“It is crucial that we provide relief and resources to the communities affected by recent weather events in my region and other parts of Maine,” Faulkingham stated on Wednesday. The Senate plans to submit the bill, which missed the deadline, to the Legislature’s economic development committee. The committee will hold a public hearing and work session on the bill at a later date.

Gov. Janet Mills has formally asked for federal disaster declarations for the recent storms in December and January. The extent of the damage caused by this month’s flooding is still being assessed, and estimates are yet to be determined. Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance is not extended to seasonal and vacant homes in coastal Maine, as well as small businesses. However, the U.S. Small Business Administration might provide alternative options apart from private insurance.

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In a recent meeting, Mills brought together the Maine Climate Council to address the pressing issue of fortifying buildings and infrastructure against the growing threat of storms. The participants engaged in a fruitful discussion on strategies to enhance resilience and better equip our communities for the escalating frequency and intensity of these weather events.

Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Melanie Loyzim, who is a member of the council, mentioned that her office has put forth a bill. This bill aims to provide an exemption from federal permit rules for the emergency rebuilding of structures in flood zones. The goal is to assist fishermen and seafood dealers in reconstructing piers that are more resilient to storms, particularly in preparation for the upcoming busy summer season.

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