Maine Gov. Janet Mills speaks at a news conference on April 28, 2020, in Augusta. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine will use $200 million in federal stimulus funds to provide grants to small businesses and nonprofits affected by the coronavirus-induced recession as part of a program that fell far short of a state panel’s aid recommendation.

The program rolled out by Gov. Janet Mills on Thursday is one of the major ones funded so far with $1.25 billion that Maine received under the $2 trillion CARES Act passed by Congress in March. States and municipalities are hoping for more congressional aid, but Republicans and Democrats are deadlocked on that subject in a fraught election year.

The grants could be a relatively small lifeline to Maine businesses and nonprofits, which are likely facing billions in cumulative losses due to the pandemic so far. The program is drawn from a recommendation from the Economic Recovery Committee convened by Mills earlier this year, though that called for $300 million in businesses and nonprofit grants. 

It comes well after New Hampshire launched a larger, similar one in June and Vermont allocated a first round of business aid the same month. The program is likely to be the extent of state aid to businesses with CARES Act money, Mills said at a Thursday news conference. 

The state has roughly $440 million in unallocated money from that pool and the governor said what the state does with it “depends a great deal on what Congress does.”

“At this time, this is what we can allocate to this program,” Mills said.

The grants could be a relatively small lifeline to Maine businesses and nonprofits, which are likely facing billions in cumulative losses due to the pandemic so far. The maximum award under the program will be $100,000. Awards to businesses will be based on the total pool of virus-related losses from qualified applicants. The program is not intended to offset past losses, but rather to help businesses remain viable. 

Eligible businesses must be headquartered in Maine or have half their employees here, have 50 or fewer employees and be in good standing on taxes, among other criteria. Applications will open Friday and will run through Sept. 9 to avoid a rush on the program. Awards will be made in October and the maximum will be $100,000, according to a state fact sheet. 

Some involved in Mills’ recovery panel have recently criticized the state for not releasing aid faster. The new program also pales in comparison to not only the economic panel’s $350 million request, but another $800 million bailout ask from the Maine tourism and retail industries.

In a hypothetical example of the loan formula, the state said a diner that averaged $610,000 in gross revenue over the last three years and has seen a 28 percent decrease in revenue almost wholly attributable to the pandemic would get a grant of $6,557 if qualified businesses recorded $1.125 billion in total losses.

The plan does not go far enough and could result in loans that are small and a waste of time for some to apply for, said Curtis Picard, the CEO of the Retail Association of Maine. Though he appreciated the program’s design, he said the money could have been released sooner.

“The fact that these businesses aren’t going to see a dollar until October, that’s still pretty far away,” Picard said. “We’ve been pushing for this for quite a while now.”

Correction: Gov. Janet Mills’ economic recovery committee requested $300 million in small business aid. An earlier version of this article was incorrect.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...