A cottage floats in New Harbor, last month after it separated from its pilings during a storm on Jan. 10. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Small businesses decimated by a series of storms in December and January soon might find relief from legislation that sets aside $50 million in state funds to provide relief during the cleanup.

The bill’s journey through the Legislature started Tuesday with a public hearing before the Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business Committee known as the IDEA Committee.

Small businesses would be able to apply for one-time payments for aid from the impacts of “severe weather-related events.” Those payments would come from the new Small Business Weather Emergency Relief Program, which lawmakers are proposing to fund with $50 million from the state’s general fund. Thus far, small businesses haven’t been able to access government aid.

“Small businesses undergird the infrastructure of our great state’s economy. We know that recovery from these severe weather-related events will be a long process and we know that there are more to come,” said Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, who is sponsoring the bill. “I urge you to move this forward as quickly as possible so that people understand that relief can happen and come from different levels as quickly as possible.”

No one testified in opposition to the bill – and the IDEA Committee did not question whether this legislation was needed. Rather, the committee is grappling with what kinds of businesses would qualify for this aid.



Maine has been recovering from a series of storms that have hit communities across the state since December.

Just before Christmas, nearly 6 inches of rain poured down on central and western Maine. The storm triggered catastrophic flooding along the Androscoggin and Kennebec rivers, which some experts called 100-year floods. Raging rivers poured into Augusta, Waterville, Lewiston, Rumford, Bethel among other municipalities. The storm killed three people.

And the costs of the damage could exceed $20 million, according to the Maine Emergency Management Agency’s reports from residents, businesses, municipalities and counties. The timing of the December storm also posed significant challenges for small businesses that rely on the holiday season for revenue.

Less than a month later, over the course of five days in mid-January, two powerful storms brought heavy rain, flooding, ocean swells, record high tides and 60 mph winds along the whole of Maine’s coast. The two storms had acute impacts on Maine’s working waterfront. The high tides ripped away entire wharfs and fish houses.

According to preliminary estimates from the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, 60% of Maine’s working waterfront was either severely damaged or destroyed. Nearly 1,200 businesses submitted damage reports from both January storms to MEMA that could help the state qualify for federal disaster relief. Some working waterfront business owners say it will take up to $500,000 to bounce back. Others fear they will have to close their businesses.

And most businesses do not have insurance as a fall back. Some estimates show Maine’s flood-insurance rate lands at less than 1%.



Finding financial support has been hard to come by. President Biden issued a federal disaster declaration for the December storm. The state is currently making a case for him to do the same for the January storms. But the federal relief money could go only toward public infrastructure pummeled by the storm. With a disaster declaration, businesses can apply for low- or no-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. But many business owners say that while a loan can help in the short term, the impacts of taking on more debt could cause more harm than good.

“Whether it’s low interest or no interest, it’s additional debt that businesses have a hard time taking on after you’ve been kicked when you’re down,” Curtis Picard, president of the Retail Association of Maine, said in support of the bill.

Lawmakers hope they can ease at least some stress of taking out loans with the Small Business Weather Emergency Relief Program, which was introduced as an emergency bill in January.

“These businesses need help not only to overcome losses caused by the storm, but to rebuild and prepare for the next one,” bill co-sponsor Rep. Daniel Joseph Shagoury, D-Hallowell, said during the public hearing. “Small businesses have a particularly hard time coping with disasters like this, they don’t have the deep pockets of large businesses and can’t afford to wait for federal aid, that if it comes won’t be available for months.”



The bipartisan group of lawmakers sponsoring the bill propose taking $50 million from the state’s general fund to aid businesses recovering from the negative impacts from the storm. The current bill only includes a one-time appropriation, but some are proposing using the state’s surplus funds each year to continue the program.

Most of the details need to be fleshed out, however.

There was no question of why these businesses need support from the state. Rather, the discussion was around how the state can do so.

The IDEA committee will need to determine how much money would be issued, how small a business should be to receive aid, what would qualify as negative impacts from a severe-weather event and other factors that would make a business eligible for state aid.

Owners and industry representatives speaking on behalf of paper mill, logging, hospitality, nonprofit, agricultural, marine trades, working waterfront, outdoor and recreation businesses spent nearly two hours discussing the impacts the bill has had on their industries and why they need aid from the state.

“We’re bleeding – all of these businesses are bleeding,” said Alan Claude, owner of a gallery in downtown Gardiner. “Obviously it’s not going to cover all of the losses. But the Maine experience of downtown is struggling to survive. And this is a really important element in sustaining these businesses to get them through this really hard time.”

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