Commentary: Apart yet together

By Reps. Nicole Grohoski and Sarah Pebworth

Since Maine’s first case of COVID-19 was announced on March 12, people across our state have sprung into action. We’ve quickly adapted to protect public health, from temporarily closing schools and businesses to working remotely, practicing physical distancing and more. We are both grateful and proud of our community for coming together.

While the second session of the Legislature generally runs through mid-April, we adjourned on March 17, to adhere to physical distancing guidelines and to protect our home communities from exposure by us.

Before adjourning, we passed emergency legislation to help Mainers through this crisis. We included provisions to: temporarily expand unemployment insurance benefits, allow certain school-day requirements to be waived and ensure students continue to receive meals while schools are closed, allow remote participation in municipal meetings, establish a consumer loan guarantee program through FAME to help Mainers access low- or no-interest loans and authorize the Governor to prohibit utilities from terminating residential electric and water service. We additionally designated $11 million in state funding to further respond to COVID-19.

Because we rely on our small businesses, we want to stress a few resources available to our local companies and the folks they employ. The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering Maine more access to Economic Impact Disaster Loans. Businesses can check eligibility and apply online. As part of our efforts to make unemployment insurance benefits more accessible, employers can use a Maine Department of Labor program called Workshare to make sure their employees get partial unemployment benefits if their hours are reduced. Plus, we’ve made more consumer loans available at low or no interest with the help of Maine lenders. We have both been impressed by the creative ways our small businesses have adapted and stand at the ready to help in any way we can.

The future of our fishing industries is certainly a concern for us. We know that other self-employed people and business owners need help, too, so we contacted our federal delegation with specific requests for support. We’re pleased to see that the federal stimulus bill included an expansion of unemployment to self-employed workers and specific support for fishermen with lost income. As needs arise during this crisis, we will keep advocating for you, for our community and the state of Maine.

We want to remind you that physical distancing does not mean social isolation, and it does not mean staying inside. We are so lucky to live in a part of our state with so many things to do outdoors. We encourage you to be outside, while still staying 6 feet apart from those around you. Visit one of Maine’s many trails — Blue Hill Mountain is a favorite of Sarah’s (try, take a walk on the beach, be like Nicole and get your canoe out, or go fishing! Until April 30, the state has waived the recreational fishing license requirement for Maine’s inland waters. Expired registrations for boats, all-terrain vehicles and cars have also been extended until 30 days after this public health crisis ends. We hope these actions will help you get around and get outside.

Finally, if you have questions or concerns, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has set up a hotline that is available by calling 211 or (866) 811-5695, by texting your ZIP code to 898-211, or emailing [email protected] Maine Equal Justice has compiled resources for folks with concerns about health care, food security, evictions, court proceedings and other issues during this time. And of course, please use us as a resource. While the Legislature has adjourned, we are still here to serve you. As Dr. Shah, from the Maine CDC, said, “Even if we can’t be there with you, we can be here for you.” Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at either [email protected] or [email protected] if there is anything we can do to help.

Reps. Nicole Grohoski and Sarah Pebworth are both serving their first terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Grohoski represents Ellsworth and Trenton. Pebworth represents Blue Hill, Brooklin, Brooksville, Castine, Sedgwick and Surry.

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