Billions of dollars could flow into Maine for state and local governments, individuals and households, unemployment benefits, child care, education, housing and food aid, and small business assistance after the likely passage of the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the $1.9 trillion bill Wednesday, and President Biden could sign it into law by the end of the week.

All told, Maine could receive up to $6 billion if the law is enacted, according to an estimate from the progressive Maine Center for Economic Policy, also known as MECEP.

“Part of the aim of this recovery bill and its focus on low-income folks is that it is trying to make sure people can get back to where they were before the pandemic or be more stable – that is the way we can get the economy back to where it was,” MECEP Policy Analyst James Myall said.

Republicans – and a few Democrats, including Maine’s U.S. Rep. Jared Golden – have criticized the package as being too expensive and largely unnecessary at a time when the country is beginning to emerge from the worst effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“During challenging times, the country needs its elected leaders to work together to meet the most urgent needs in their communities. This bill addresses urgent needs, and then buries them under a mountain of unnecessary or untimely spending,” Golden said in a statement after the House passed its version of the bill in late February. “After supporting $4 trillion in emergency COVID relief in 2020, I won’t support trillions more in funding that is poorly targeted or in many cases not necessary at this moment in time.”

Collins voted against the Senate version of the bill after pushing an alternative, $650 billion package. Instead, the Democratic Party chose to ram through “a partisan bill using a partisan process,” she said in a statement after the Senate vote earlier this month.

“Under the guise of providing COVID-19 relief, the Democratic leaders proposed a bloated $1.9 trillion package stuffed full of provisions that have nothing to do with fighting the coronavirus, from either a public health or economic perspective,” Collins said.

But Myall and others believe it would be taking a big risk not to strongly support the U.S. economy and the most vulnerable people through legislation while the pandemic and associated recession are still part of everyday life.

“In the recession of 2008, the stimulus was too small and was cut off too early,” Myall said. “I really look at that experience – we don’t want to repeat that again.”

MONEY FOR MAINERS

One of the biggest outlays in the bill is a $1,400 payment to individuals making up to $75,000 a year or households with joint filers making up to $150,000 a year, as well as additional checks for each dependent in the home.

Those terms cover almost 90 percent of households in Maine, according to 2019 census estimates. The total coming to the state could be almost $1.7 billion, according to MECEP.

Unemployed Mainers will continue receiving an additional $300 per week through September. The bill also extends federal unemployment programs enacted almost a year ago that cover those ineligible for state benefits and adds half a year of unemployment pay.

Based on an average of roughly 50,000 Mainers receiving unemployment benefits each week through September, the bill could bring up to $780 million in unemployment aid to the state, Myall estimated.

GOVERNMENT AID

Maine’s state and local governments could be in line for at least $1.2 billion and as much as $1.7 billion, according to a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District.

The funding can be used to cover lost revenue; assist households, small businesses and nonprofits; make infrastructure investments; and provide premium pay to employees, according to an analysis from the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The money would be delivered in two equal tranches, the first coming no more than two months after the law is enacted, and the second a year later at the earliest. States can use the money to cover costs through the end of 2024.

Maine’s municipal and county governments may receive hundreds of millions in payments to cover the same costs, and under roughly the same timeline as the state. Municipal governments stand to receive about $225 million altogether, according to Steven Gove, executive director of the Maine Municipal Association.

Almost half that amount – $110 million – would go directly to five of the state’s largest cities: Portland, Bangor, Lewiston, Auburn and Biddeford, Gove said.

The rest, about $115 million, would be disbursed by the state to other Maine towns and cities based on metrics such as population, poverty rate and housing conditions, Gove said. Municipalities will not be able to receive more than three-quarters of their most recent annual budget as of 2020.

Cities and towns will not have to apply for the funding, Gove added.

“It will be a proportional distribution, but the U.S. Treasury will require certification of need and that the funds are used as permitted by the act,” he said.

EDUCATION AND HOUSING

Maine’s K-12 schools, colleges, universities and child care providers could receive up $657 million through the plan, according to the House Committee on Education and Labor.

That funding includes $119 million in supplemental funding for child care providers, and $411 million to K-12 schools to help them reopen safely for in-person instruction and address the coronavirus pandemic’s impacts on students’ education and well-being. Colleges and universities could get up to $123 million, half of which would be for grants to students dealing with hunger, homelessness and other hardships, and Head Start programs are expected to receive $3.5 million.

Maine could receive another $152 million for rent relief, said Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition. That money is on top of $200 million for rental assistance approved under the relief bill passed in December but not available until this month, he said.

The American Rescue Plan also includes enough money to provide 350 new housing vouchers through 2030, about $25 million to go to new permanent housing for homeless people, and $50 million to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.

A LONG-TERM PLAN

Unlike earlier relief programs, the Biden approach appears to be a long-term plan to provide stability until conditions improve and the most vulnerable people are in a stronger position, Payne said.

“The other administration had the approach of letting problems fester and get really bad before there was the political will to tackle it,” he said. “Maybe the Biden administration is being more proactive in addressing this and recognizing the consequences. The economic fallout of the pandemic is going to go on longer than 2021, and getting those jobs back in full is going to take some time.”

Families with children also would receive relief in the form of an expansion of the child care tax credit. That tax break would work out to about $300 a month for young children and $250 a month for those over 5 years old.

Small businesses will receive a boost with over $7 billion in additional funds for Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loans to small businesses and nonprofits, and $25 billion set aside for grants to restaurants. It also includes $15 billion in advance economic injury loans and more than $1 billion in grants to entertainment venues that are still closed. Maine businesses will have to compete nationally for those funds.

More than 10,000 small employers in Maine have been approved for a total of $692.4 million in forgivable PPP loans since the program reopened in January, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

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