Daniel DiDonato, a deliveryman for Heatable, brings heating oil to a home in Lewiston, Maine, Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — A draft version of a heating aid plan being considered by Gov. Janet Mills and lawmakers would send out $450 checks to hundreds of thousands of Mainers and dedicate tens of millions more to other aid and housing programs.

Something close to this $447 million plan could be approved by the Maine Legislature as soon as Wednesday, when a new crop of lawmakers is sworn in. But there was no deal between Democrats and Republicans on Friday. Mills said she would release a plan next week.

A 13-page draft of the plan was obtained Friday from a source who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to release it. A Mills spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the draft. One Republican leader said this week that he wants the plan to apply to more Mainers.

Under the proposal, the $450 checks would go to everyone in Maine who made under $75,000 in the last tax season, while couples filing jointly and making less than $150,000 would get $900. The plan includes tens of millions more in spending, including $50 million for other heating aid programs and $15 million to support emergency housing and shelters this winter.

The plan is driven by a revised forecast projecting a $280 million state budget surplus through mid-2023. The rest of the money comes from transfers within the budget. It is a response to fuel prices that are near record highs in the state most dependent on heating oil.

This round of checks, which would come by March at the latest and likely well before that, is sure to be smaller than the $850 round sent to 858,000 Mainers earlier this year, applying to single filers making less than $100,000 and couples at $200,000 or less.

Mills has been teasing a plan targeted at low-income and middle-class people. It initially was set to release specifics this week, but the governor pushed that back on Friday to say it would instead come out early next week as top Democrats and Republicans negotiate.

“I extend my gratitude to legislative leadership for their continued good-faith work,” she said.

Legislators in both parties had been hopeful that an agreement could be reached shortly after lawmakers convene in earnest in January, but it appears that a deal could be finalized on the swearing-in day on Wednesday, a day usually reserved for pomp and circumstance. 

Mills briefed Republicans on the plan this week. Incoming House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham of Winter Harbor said Wednesday that he had met with a Mills advisor and spoken to the governor briefly by phone.

He declined to give details and cautioned negotiations were still preliminary, but he said it was “missing the middle class” and Republicans would push to open aid to more Mainers.

“I would like to see that relief expanded more broadly,” Faulkingham said.

Democrats held their legislative majorities in the November election for the third consecutive term, but Republicans’ input is important here because no relief proposal will get out the door in time for the heating season if it does not get two-thirds votes in both chambers.

Other interests have pushed for aggressive moves toward electrification to be considered alongside any plan for relief checks. Nothing like that appeared in the draft bill.

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...