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The panel tasked with proposing a plan to get Maine’s economy back on track met on Friday to narrow recommendations to three policy areas that would tap around $970 million of the state’s federal coronavirus aid, at the same time saying that funding is not nearly enough.
The recommendations would tap the $1.25 billion in federal CARES Act coronavirus funding to the state that the governor is responsible for distributing.
“The needs for CARES Act funding outweigh the supply by many orders of magnitude,” said Tilson CEO Josh Broder, co-chair of the 37-member Economic Recovery Committee formed by Gov. Janet Mills in May.
The committee pulled together recommendations from six subgroups that have been meeting over the past two months to focus on needs in tourism and retail, education and workforce, infrastructure, innovation, manufacturing, and health care and child care. The three areas of focus in the report will be stabilizing and supporting Maine’s people, employers and infrastructure.
The committee’s initial report, focused on stabilizing and supporting the economy, is due to the governor on July 15. More changes may be made to proposals between now and then, Broder said. The final report due on Dec. 1 will focus on sustainability and growth to bridge the state’s COVID-19 response with its 10-year economic development strategy released last year.
The people area of the report recommends $20 million for childcare, $300 million for safe operations in pre-kindergarten through grade 12, $75 million for higher education, $50 million for housing assistance and up to $7 million for immigrant support. Funding still is needed for public health.
Funding requested for employers is $300 million for business aid, $30 million for the Finance Authority of Maine, $20 million for innovation support at the Maine Technology Institute and $30 million for workforce development.
The third area, infrastructure, calls for $60 million in broadband funding. It also calls for a $100 million bond initiative, $85 million of which would fund transportation and $15 million for digital infrastructure.
The committee still is working through the numbers and proposals. However, in a show of hands vote at the end of its meeting today, the majority said the allocated funding was “just about right” in all areas except the $300 million for small business funding, which half of the committee thought was either “too low” or “much too low.”
The hospitality, retail and tourism subgroup noted that it was aware of an $800 million industry proposal to the governor. “The longer the pandemic and the economic impact lasts, the greater the need,” the subgroup told the committee in its proposal.
A couple committee members recommended bonding for items like broadband to stretch the limited CARES Act funds.
“We can’t fix the fundamental structural problems of the state,” said Adam Lee, board chairman of Lee Auto Malls. “This is to stop us from drowning.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the amount of stimulus money in Maine. It is $1.25 billion.