Here’s the latest message sent to Speaker Gideon’s email list:
With consistently lower numbers of new COVID-19 cases being recorded, Maine appears to be successfully flattening the curve. We are certainly not out of the woods yet, but we have been able to start lifting and loosening some of our state’s pandemic response protocols.
Maine has replaced the “Stay Healthy at Home” order with a “Stay Safer at Home” order. That order includes a four-stage strategy for Restarting Maine’s Economy. The stages focus not on “essential” versus “non-essential” business designations like those used to originally limit commercial operations and activities, but on the ability of a business to operate or an activity to occur in a manner that protects public health and safety.
Now that we are in the first stage, many businesses that were allowed to reopen on May 1 have been hard at work updating their establishments to adhere to public health protocols. Of course, many workers and business owners still have questions about the state’s reopening timeline, and I’ve provided more insight below on how this plan may evolve.
I also wanted to share this letter I sent to Governor Mills, urging her to create a COVID-19 Re-opening Task Force that would bring members of her cabinet, public health experts, business leaders, labor and employment interests, and the public together to find safe and sensible ways to open Maine’s economy again. This task force would include business and public interests to harness the creativity, innovation, and resolve Mainers have demonstrated in the face of this crisis. I’ll continue to work on this crucial issue.
For those of you who remain unemployed, I know the backlog of unemployment benefits has placed undue financial stress on many families in our community. I called for a meeting of the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee to hear from Maine Department of Labor (MDOL) Commissioner Fortman about what is causing the backlog and to understand the steps being taken to improve the system. We know MDOL has taken actions to better manage the immense number of claims coming in, including hiring 100 new people to take calls, but we will continue to advocate for our constituents and improvements to the systems to get Mainers the support they need. We must remain vigilant and we must be ready to adapt if necessary. I want to assure you that we are all working to take the necessary steps to support and bolster our small businesses and an economy that would normally be picking up speed through the summer months. This is the very beginning of a long road of recovery and we will get through this if we continue to work together.
NEW PARTNERSHIP WITH IDEXX
Many of my messages have highlighted the fantastic Maine companies that are stepping up in the face of this public health crisis. Well this week, we had a major announcement that will allow for an enormous expansion of our testing capabilities. The Mills Administration has partnered with Maine-based IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. to purchase enough of the company’s recently authorized COVID-19 testing kits to more than triple the State’s testing capacity.
The breakthrough will soon allow anyone in Maine suspected of having COVID-19 to receive a test. This type of public-private collaboration is welcome news for all of us and is crucial to reopening our economy safely.
INFLUENCE THE STATE’S REOPENING PLAN
All of us are worried about the toll our COVID-19 response is taking on our economy. In hopes of getting people back to work while balancing public health, a four stage plan to reopen Maine’s economy was announced, where more and more kinds of businesses will be allowed to open each month.
Many businesses are understandably concerned about where they fall in this timeline, and it is important to note that the plan to reopen Maine’s economy is not set in stone. As the public health situation changes (like the partnership with Idexx listed above) and as we develop better solutions for the economy, the timeline could be shortened or extended. As part of that, the Department of Economic and Community Development, which is leading the plan to restart Maine’s economy, has opened an online portal for Mainers to submit their ideas for how to improve our reopening plan. Businesses can also make a case for why they and their industry should be reopened earlier. Govenor Mills has also convened a long-term economic recovery committee that has 37 members representing business and community leaders, workers and lawmakers who will report back on the economic impacts of the pandemic and make policy recommendations. This feedback along with continued consultation with medical experts and business leaders will help shift the plan into a strategy that works for as many Mainers as possible.
APPLYING FOR UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS
If your workplace was temporarily closed or you are taking an unpaid leave of absence due to the pandemic, you may be eligible for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits. As of May 1, self-employed workers, farmers and fishermen, independent contractors, gig economy workers and more are now able to apply for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
The best way to apply is online at reemployme.maine.gov. You can also file over the phone at 1-800-593-7660 between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. To help manage the many claims coming in, MDOL is requesting claimants follow an alphabetical-by-last-name call schedule (people with last names beginning with A-H on Mondays; I-Q on Tuesdays; R-Z on Wednesdays and anyone on Thursdays and Fridays).
I know many of you have been waiting a very long time for these benefits. The number of unemployment claims are record-breaking and each claim represents a person facing a dire financial situation. To ensure Maine people receive the benefits they’re entitled to during this public health crisis, our office is standing by to answer any questions.
JULY 14 ELECTION
To ensure that we have adequate time to plan for the primary election and that Mainers receive safe, equal access to vote, the date for the spring primary election has been moved from June 9 to July 14.
As the Secretary of State’s office develops guidelines to help municipalities execute the election in as safe a manner as possible, an easy way to ensure you cast your vote safely is to request an absentee ballot, visit this link to do so today.
I’m sure there are a lot of questions about how our reopening will proceed. I will do my best to provide more details and to keep you updated on changes, but please also reach out to me directly with any questions or concerns you have. I also know that many of us will need help navigating these changing circumstances, and I am here to provide that to you in any way I can.
Sending you best wishes for your health and safety,