Good morning from Augusta. There are 68 days until Election Day.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “In this time where so much feels like it’s going wrong in the world, this is something that feels like people can get excited about and rally around,” said Puranjot Kaur of Bar Harbor, who is attempting a 44-mile swim around Mount Desert Island on Friday. “That feels very, very cool.”
What we’re watching today
Coronavirus relief talks may be resuming in Washington, but the two sides don’t seem any closer to an agreement. Republicans indicated they will propose a new $500 billion package that would include $400 in weekly expanded unemployment benefits and loans for small businesses, CNBC reported Wednesday. But it’s still significantly smaller than what Democrats would like and does not include stimulus checks nor funding for state and local governments or the embattled U.S. Postal Service.
President Donald Trump tried to address failed stimulus talks through executive action earlier this month, including authorizing an additional $300 in unemployment benefits through an emergency program. Maine was approved for those funds this week. Still, it will take the state several weeks to set up the payment system, at which point workers receiving unemployment benefits will be paid retroactively, beginning with the week ending Aug. 1.
But the consequences of lawmakers’ failure to reach a deal are already set into motion. Lawyers are warning about a wave of evictions after federal protections expired. New unemployment claims in Maine remain relatively low, but there were still nearly 41,000 Maine workers receiving regular state unemployment benefits as of mid-August and more than 30,000 receiving benefits through other programs.
Back in Washington, there still isn’t pressure to reach an agreement — yet. The Senate is not set to return until after Labor Day, so legislation before then is unlikely. Lawmakers do have to reach a deal before the end of September, when Congress faces another government shutdown if it can’t agree on some sort of spending.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine wants prisoners given jobless benefits to pay the money back,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “[Gov. Janet] Mills ordered the Department of Corrections [in May] to hold the benefits that had been paid out in trust funds set up for inmates. But the benefits did not fully stop, according to one prisoner’s attorney and documents included in his federal lawsuit filed in June challenging the seizure of benefits.”
The state’s order for prisoners to pay benefits back came after a series of changing legal and political positions. Mills’ order to state agencies to stop paying benefits to prisoners — which she called “bad public policy” — came after an assistant attorney general said the payments were legal. But the federal government has since come out to say the loss of a work-release program does not entitle inmates to benefits under the CARES Act and the state has apparently changed its view of Maine law, according to a notice provided to prisoner Marc Sparks, who is leading a lawsuit over the benefits seizure.
— “Millinocket-area schools delay opening as school employees, students test positive,” Eesha Pendharkar, BDN: “The school department virus cases and the delayed start to the school year are the latest ripple effects from the wedding and reception that took place at the Tri Town Baptist Church in East Millinocket and the Big Moose Inn on Millinocket Lake respectively.”
A coronavirus test manufacturer will hire 1,200 employees in Maine to make a new $5 kit. The new Abbott Laboratories test was approved by the federal government on Wednesday. It is the first to not require additional equipment and can provide results in 15 minutes. The company said 300 positions at its new Westbrook facility will be permanent and the rest will be temporary. Abbott’s previous rapid test has been touted by Trump, but there have been concerns about accuracy and strict limits on how many hourly tests could be run compared to other machines.
— “Out-of-state homebuyers flock to Aroostook County amid coronavirus pandemic,” Alexander MacDougall, BDN: “Fred Dobbs, who owns Dobbs Realty in Caribou, estimated that 90 percent of the new homes have been sold to out-of-state buyers. … Regarding his own real estate business, Dobbs said, “It’s the hottest market I’ve seen in 23 years of doing this.”
Golden makes Biden case after others duck presidential questions
Maine’s vulnerable congressman made an endorsement many constituents may not like, going farther than two prominent Republicans. U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine’s 2nd District, told News Center Maine on Wednesday that he backs former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, in a decision that is not surprising but notable given non-endorsements from two big-name Republicans.
That would be Sen. Susan Collins, who has not said whether she will vote for Trump in 2020, and former Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who has backed the president vociferously since being defeated by Golden in 2018 but did not endorse Trump when both were on the ballot in the 2016 election. Trump won the swing 2nd District by 10 points in 2016.
Golden, running against the Trump-backing former state Rep. Dale Crafts, R-Lisbon, in the November election, has been careful to try not to alienate conservatives in his district, opposing gun control legislation and splitting his vote on impeachment while staking out progressive stances on campaign finance and health care. The endorsement was somewhat cautious.
“I don’t agree with him on every issue, on everything or every decision he’s made or might make, but I think he’s going to offer the style of leadership the country needs right now,” Golden said Wednesday.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email firstname.lastname@example.org (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.