Good morning from Augusta. There are two days until the new Maine Legislature convenes. Here’s your soundtrack.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Everybody knew her and saw her out there every single day, doing her thing,” Carol Lee said of her friend Ann Mullen, who died from a heart condition after overcoming COVID-19, according to her family. “What we want to do is celebrate Ann’s spunk and spirit. The energy that woman exuded was incredible.”
What we’re watching today
More Mainers are turning toward public assistance programs as the pandemic worsens, while Congress returns to Washington this week with additional aid uncertain. Applications for Medicaid and food and cash assistance programs have ticked up over the past few months as the spread of the coronavirus continues to impede economic recovery. Nonprofits have seen the effects, too, with some worried about keeping pace given declining donations.
Demand for public assistance programs is likely to further surge at the end of the year if Congress fails to reach an agreement on another coronavirus-related relief bill. Unemployment benefits aiding more than 30,000 Mainers are set to expire at the end of the year barring a deal.
The welfare effects of failing to reach a deal would be large, with federal food and cash assistance and aid from nonprofits being highly imperfect substitutes for unemployment benefits.
Maine’s junior senator said another push for aid is in the works. Sen. Angus King said he and other lawmakers were workshopping a bipartisan package over the holiday weekend focused on additional unemployment assistance and additional aid to state and local governments. Those things have been the priority of the Maine delegation.
Old debates about the overall size of the package — and a Republican priority of granting businesses immunity from lawsuits alleging they exposed their employees to the coronavirus — may stall progress in the coming weeks. King said the proposal may be ready this week.
The Maine politics top 3
— “A Maine sheriff resigned after sexting his officers. The full story is even darker,” Erin Rhoda, Bangor Daily News: “Unlike police chiefs who are hired and fired by municipalities, sheriffs are elected by voters, and, under the Maine Constitution, only a governor can remove them. But the governor’s power is also limited. There is no legal mechanism for a governor to put a sheriff on leave during an investigation.”
— “Moosehead-region tribe’s bid for state recognition is nearly 200 years in the making,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “[Houlton Band of Maliseet member David] Slagger said he is not pushing for the Kineo people to get the same gaming, land use, taxation and other rights the state’s four federally recognized tribal leaders have pressed for, including in a recent sovereignty effort that stalled earlier this year in the Legislature. But if his effort succeeds, the tribe will become the first to be formally recognized by the state of Maine.”
— “Maine’s 2020 election turnout was among highest in US,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “More than half of Maine voters cast their absentee ballots this year, either in-person early or by mail, up from one-third of voters in 2016. Still, more than 300,000 voters still voted in-person on Election Day, according to state data. In-person voting went mostly smoothly despite pandemic alterations, although voters in some places saw two-hour lines as clerks limited occupancy.”
Maine’s elections will soon be overseen by a new figure. Lawmakers are set to vote on Wednesday on a successor to Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who is termed out. Six Democrats are vying to replace him, but Dunlap is unlikely to disappear from public service life. He told Maine Public he is running for state auditor, a position that is also elected by the Legislature.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews. 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.
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