The border patrol station in front of the international bridge in Madawaska is pictured in this July 2021 photo. Credit: Hannah Catlin / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — Businesses in towns near the U.S.-Canada border in Maine that have lost revenue due to the border’s closure can now apply for financial relief.

Gov. Janet Mills announced Thursday that $10 million was allocated from the state’s remaining COVID relief funds for affected businesses open to the public and located within 25 miles of the border with Canada. 

Maine’s border towns have been squeezed hard by the 16-month closure. While the border has now opened to vaccinated Americans traveling across, it remains closed to Canadians looking to spend time and money in the U.S.

Businesses that have been affected by the closure can apply for funding on the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development website until Sept. 13 — at which point the state government will review the applications and distribute money accordingly. 

Each applicant can request up to $100,000.

Charter transportation companies, businesses selling land-and-sea excursions and port harbor operators statewide can also apply for the funds.

Mills has been a vocal opponent of the U.S.’s extended border closure because of its impact on those communities. Not only have family and friends been separated, but in Maine’s most rural areas, Canadians make up a significant customer base in the local economy.

Businesses in Madawaska — particularly convenience stores, gas stations and grocers — have been hit hard in the past year and a half, St. John Valley Chamber of Commerce Director Sharon Boucher said. 

Maine’s northernmost town has always had a close relationship with its Canadian neighbor, Edmundston, New Brunswick and businesses in each town rely on customers from the other.

“The closure on our side is bad, we really want the Canadians to come back,”  Boucher said. “[The grant program] would be a boon for our businesses. We need all the help we can get.”

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.