Good morning from Augusta. Hearings on the two-year budget continue in Augusta on Tuesday, including a discussion in the budget and health committees on MaineCare rates.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “These are deeply consequential things,” David Silverman, a George Washington University history professor, said of Samoset, the first Indigenous person to make contact with the settlers at the Plymouth Colony. “If things went south between the Natives and the Mayflower settlers, like they did at Popham or in Roanoke, there’s no way that colony would have survived. These things would have changed the course of history. These are events that have reverberations for centuries to come.”
What we’re watching today
Maine’s economic recovery is trending in the right direction, but the state remains well short of pre-pandemic job levels. The state added about 2,000 jobs in January, the bulk of which were University of Maine System employees brought back on the job after layoffs. But there were still about 38,000 fewer people working statewide in the private sector compared with January 2020, according to Maine Department of Labor data.
The job losses have not been equal between different sectors of the economy, with hospitality and government jobs among those hit the hardest and with little change in construction or the financial sector. Though hospitality jobs picked up slightly in January, likely due to winter recreation, there were still nearly 16,000 fewer workers in the sector compared with a year prior.
Government jobs also ticked up slightly in January after a concerning trend, though about 8,000 fewer people were employed in the sector than the previous year. The number of jobs in government fell sharply at the beginning of the pandemic, then mostly recovered before dropping again last fall as state and local budgets struggled.
Federal aid from the latest coronavirus relief package will provide a significant boost to governments, with $1 billion headed to the state and hundreds of millions more for cities and towns across Maine. Timelines from previous bills, however, suggest that it would be weeks or months before the money makes its way to states and municipalities.
Although Maine added jobs in January, the state’s unemployment rate still ticked up to 5.2 percent. That could be viewed as a positive sign, as the increase was not due to job losses but a reflection of the fact that more Mainers were looking for work. The state’s labor force participation rate rose to 59.9 percent, up slightly from December but still down from 62.7 percent in January 2020. Returning to pre-pandemic economic conditions will require most of the tens of thousands of Mainers who have left the labor force over the past year.
The Maine politics top 3:
— “Aquafarm opponents allege political pressure tainted permitting process in new court filing,” Abigail Curtis, Bangor Daily News: “The civil motion was filed Monday in Waldo County Superior Court against the Maine Board of Environmental Protection and Nordic Aquafarms. It asks the court to allow the plaintiffs to reopen the discovery process in order to determine the extent to which the alleged influence ‘tainted’ the proceedings from the Board of Environmental Protection, which resulted in the granting of permits for Nordic Aquafarms.” Here’s your soundtrack.
— “10 inmates now positive for COVID-19 in Penobscot County Jail outbreak,” David Marino Jr., BDN: “[Penobscot County Sheriff Troy] Morton last week defended the jail’s handling of the outbreak in a county commissioners’ meeting after about half a dozen people criticized his leadership. Many echoed criticism stemming from a recent letter from inmates at the Bangor jail about cleanliness and personal hygiene concerns. Some inmates also said they were not receiving their prescription medications.”
Maine’s longest serving inmate died in prison Monday, according to the Maine Department of Corrections. The cause of death for 87-year-old Albert Paul was not reported, but officials said it was not related to the coronavirus. Paul was sentenced to life in prison in 1972 for the murder of a South Portland woman.
— “Republican leads latest lawsuit against Janet Mills’ virus measures,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “The lawsuit is the most recent of complaints filed against the Mills administration challenging her authority during the pandemic, granted when the Legislature adjourned last year as the virus hit Maine. None of the lawsuits have been successful to date. Democrats in the Legislature also blocked Republican efforts to end the state of emergency last week.”
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, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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