PORTLAND, Maine — A federal program criticized by House Speaker Sara Gideon for helping special interests provided a forgivable loan of between $1 million and $2 million to her husband’s law firm, according to federal data released on Monday. Other legislative leaders from both parties also benefited.
The data shows entities from schools like Maine Maritime Academy and Waynflete School to breweries like Allagash Brewing Co. and Bissell Brothers to hoteliers like Migis Hotel Group and The Olympia Companies received loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, designed to help businesses during the pandemic.
Most of the state’s biggest law firms including Lewiston-based Berman & Simmons, which employs Gideon’s husband, sought help under the program, according to the SBA.
Gideon, a Democrat from Freeport, criticized the program, co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, saying it benefited large corporations and special interests, not just smaller businesses it was intended to help. Gideon is seeking her party’s nomination to challenge Collins in November.
“From when this crisis began, Sara has been clear that this is a time when Washington needs to put politics aside and do what’s best for workers and small businesses, not large corporations and the special interest,” said Maeve Coyle, Gideon’s spokesperson. She noted that more than 400 law firms received help under the program.
Collins’ office noted that the SBA concluded that nearly 80 percent of estimated small business payroll was covered by the loans in Maine. Notably, a hardware business run by Collins’ brothers, S.W. Collins in Caribou, returned its loans without using them.
“The Paycheck Protection Program has been a lifeline to small businesses and their employees during the pandemic,” Collins said last week when the program’s deadline was extended.
All told, more than 27,000 entities benefited from about $2.2 billion in forgivable loans in Maine, the SBA said.
On Monday, the SBA released the names of businesses receiving loans over $150,000, or less than 20 percent of all recipients.
Several other businesses and organizations that benefited from the program were linked to legislative leaders in Maine:
— A furniture store owned by Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, received assistance of between $150,000 and $350,000, the SBA said. He’s listed as an owner while his wife and two dependents work at the store, according to a state disclosure form. Dow said the loan allowed him to keep his workforce employed for eight weeks when revenues were down by two-thirds.
— Assistant Senate Minority Leader Jeffrey Timberlake, R-Turner, received assistance of $150,000 to $350,000 for each of two businesses, Ricker Hill Farms Inc. and Richard Hill Orchards Inc, both in Turner.
— Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, is a paid consultant to Community Concepts Inc. in his home city. Community Concepts received loans of between $1 million and $2 million.
Also, Senate President Troy Jackson, a Democrat from Allagash, served as an unpaid member of the board of health care provider Fish River Rural Health, a federally qualified health center that received a loan of between $350,000 and $1 million.
The Associated Press’ David Sharp wrote this report.