As small businesses flounder and more Mainers find themselves out of work, lawmakers passed a supplemental budget Tuesday in hopes of minimizing the damage. 

According to labor officials, more Mainers applied for unemployment in the past three days than during the entire month of March 2019 as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on service industry businesses hits hard. 

About 4,900 Mainers filed unemployment claims with the state Department of Labor between Sunday and Tuesday, spokeswoman Jess Picard said. The surge in claims is almost double the total monthly unemployment claims filed last year, according to state data. Several Maine businesses already have reported shutting down and laying off staff members. 

Lawmakers and state officials have been sending out information kits on how Mainers can go about seeking relief. 

“Today, the Maine Legislature passed legislation to expand unemployment benefits to cover workers harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic in Maine,” state Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, wrote in a news release. “We’ve also changed the regulations to recognize the unprecedented situation. We’ve waived the one-week waiting period for benefits and the work search requirement for workers who know that they will be returning to the same job at the end of this crisis. Additionally, any benefits paid under these provisions won’t affect an employer’s experience rating record.

According to the recent legislation, a person is now eligible to collect unemployment benefits in the following situations: 

  • An employer temporarily ceases operation due to COVID-19. 
  • An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work once the quarantine is over. 
  • An individual leaves employment due to risk of exposure or infection.
  • An individual leaves employment to care for a family member. 

To apply for unemployment: Visit reemployme.maine.gov/accessme/faces/login/login.xhtml. Click on “Claimant Services” and then click on the create account link.

Small business disaster loans are also being made available for businesses effected by COVID-19. The U.S. Small Business Administration has approved Gov. Janet Mills’ application for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans to help Maine businesses overcome any temporary loss of revenue due to the pandemic. Maine is one of the first states in the country to be approved, according to Libby, and Maine small business owners can now apply for these loans. 

Here is what businesses need to do to apply for a disaster loan: 

To apply, visit: sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance 

Also on Wednesday, U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden sent an appeal for the Small Business Administration to make available no-interest loans for small businesses and nonprofits that have been effected by the crisis.

Pingree wrote: “99% of businesses in Maine are small businesses. In the past week, many of these establishments — from restaurants to yoga studios to mom-and-pop shops — have had to close their doors because to the coronavirus pandemic. This is for the preservation of our public health, but it is going to have sweeping impacts on our state’s more than 145,000 small businesses.”

“It is essential,” Pingree wrote, “that the Small Business Administration offer zero-interest loans immediately to help these businesses face the future of our state’s economy. As we discuss economic solutions to this crisis, we have to prioritize the small businesses that make our economic engine tick and pay the salaries of more than 280,000 Mainers.”

Some towns, meanwhile, were reaching out to local businesses to offer assistance as the crisis continues. Those affected should check with their individual towns or cities. For instance, Lisbon on Wednesday put out the following information: “The Lisbon Economic and Community Development Department is on hand to assist local businesses. Please contact Brett Richardson at [email protected] or 353-3000, ext. 122 for immediate assistance.”


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