Lawmakers plan to hold a public hearing next week on a heating and energy relief package that would give $450 checks to most Mainers, a proposal that was blocked last week by Senate Republicans.

The hearing is aimed at breaking a stalemate over how to help Mainers remain safely housed and warm this winter. Heating and energy prices – as well as inflation generally – are expected to stretch family budgets thin and limit the reach of existing home heating assistance programs.

Gov. Janet Mills negotiated with legislators to come up with a $473 million assistance package, funded by the state budget surplus, and hoped to pass the proposal last week. Its centerpiece was a round of $450 checks for most taxpayers, as well as $50 million for heating programs and $21 million for emergency housing and shelter.

As an emergency bill, it requires two-thirds support of each legislative chamber to pass and take effect immediately. Democrats control both chambers, including 22 seats in the Senate, where they need 24 votes, and 82 seats in the House, where they need 101 votes.

The measure passed overwhelmingly in the House with a 125-16 vote, after Mills agreed to increase the income limits for the refund checks at the request of House Republicans. However, Senate Republicans blocked the measure, citing the desire to hold a public hearing first.

Concerned about delaying assistance, Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, initially resisted the demand for a hearing, saying every lawmaker had heard from constituents worried about staying warm. He also suggested it would be difficult to hold a committee hearing, since new committees are not typically appointed until the end of December.


On Friday, lawmakers from all four caucuses agreed to appoint a temporary budget committee, in which party leaders would serve along with others, to hold a hearing a 1 p.m. on Wednesday. The public can participate at the hearing or via Zoom.

Procedurally, the bill will be given a new docket number – L.D. 3 – so it can be administratively referred to the committee. The goal is for the committee to vote on a recommendation for the full Legislature to consider when lawmakers return on Jan. 4.


Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate announced the hearing in a joint statement Friday. Jackson said in a written statement that he hopes the hearing will “set this bipartisan proposal up for future success.”

“Right now, what matters most is getting Maine people the heating assistance and energy relief they desperately need as soon as possible,” he said. “As I said on swearing-in day, Maine people are counting on us to rise to the occasion and deliver a compromise energy relief package that treats this heating crisis like the emergency it is. We cannot let them down.”

Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, had said Republicans wanted transparency and accountability in the process. On Friday, he suggested in a written statement that the hearing could do exactly that, allowing his caucus to move forward.


“It doesn’t matter whether you’re Republican or Democrat, we are all Maine people first and foremost and today’s agreement continues the storied tradition of Maine bipartisanship and protects the institution of the Legislature,” Stewart said. “I thank both President Jackson and Speaker Talbot Ross for their willingness to ensure that transparency and the feedback of the people we represent are prioritized as we work to provide relief to Maine people before the holidays.”

Mills said in a statement, “I thank President Jackson and House Speaker Talbot Ross for appointing a temporary committee to advance our emergency energy relief bill. I know that Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike in the Legislature are committed to addressing this serious issue in a significant and timely way, and I am hopeful that this bipartisan move will provide us with a path forward to enacting this bill and delivering help immediately.”


Mills’ proposal calls for sending checks to individuals earning up to $100,000 and $900 checks to married couples filing jointly and earning less than $200,000. Mills originally wanted lower income limits for the checks in order to target the aid to those most in need. But at Republicans’ request she agreed to increase the limits by $25,000 for individuals and $50,000 for married couples filing jointly.

At MaineHousing, which coordinates heating assistance, spokesman Scott Thistle said the agency is glad to see movement to help Mainers in need. 

“We believe that with the price of heating fuels and … all the other pressures on households, HEAP funding doesn’t go as far,” he said, adding that the assistance would help thousands of households get through a long, cold Maine winter.


The price of heating oil in Maine averaged $4.50 per gallon on Monday, down from a record high of $5.71 per gallon a month ago but up from $3.14 per gallon one year ago, according to the Governor’s Energy Office.

MaineHousing isn’t taking a position on the entire package being proposed, but supports both the heating assistance and housing aid portions, Thistle said. The agency will provide all the information it can to legislators “so they can make a good decision,” he added.

Other proposals could emerge during the hearing.

This week, Republican Sen. Rick Bennett, of Oxford, and Democratic Sen. Nicole Grohoski, of Ellsworth, unveiled a scaled-down proposal for lawmakers to consider, one that would direct assistance primarily to the lowest-income households.

The proposal would limit direct checks to households earning less than $60,000 for married couples, which is roughly 300% of the federal poverty level. The measure would leave untouched $160 million in state funding intended to supplement the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages for programs like mental health care, nursing home care, developmental services and services for people with brain injuries.

An administration official said that the one-time state allocation was included in the budget because an enhanced federal reimbursement rate in place during the pandemic was to expire, but never did.

Mills and Jackson criticized the proposal, however, saying it eliminated the $450 checks, which were key to earning strong bipartisan support in the House.

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