As the nation mourns the loss of more than 500,000 lives to COVID-19, including more than 660 Mainers, the Biden-Harris Administration and U.S. Congress continue debating provisions of a COVID-19 relief package. Below are updates from various news sources and Maine’s federal delegation on COVID-19 relief, the Paycheck Protection Program, and more.
According to The Hill: “The House Rules Committee on Wednesday released new text of the COVID-19 relief bill, adding spending measures that far exceed the $1.9 trillion price tag planned for the bill. The full House is expected to vote on the COVID-19 relief package on Friday, but the bill will need to be changed to hit the $1.9 trillion limit to move through the Senate under special budgetary rules that are being used to avoid a Senate filibuster.”
The Bangor Daily News reported that: “U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Tuesday that President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion relief package is unlikely to get Republican votes in the Senate, as Democrats look to advance the bill before a mid-March deadline for unemployment benefits.”
Additionally, various news reports indicate President Biden’s proposal to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour is being met with opposition by Senate Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has said he will propose an $11 hourly minimum federal wage amendment. With the Senate split 50-50, Sen. Manchin is emerging as a pivotal vote.
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, a member of the U.S House’s Agriculture committee, is urging swift action on COVID-19 relief legislation, saying in a February 17 press release, “From individuals facing eviction to small businesses that are teetering on the brink of permanent closure, this legislation will alleviate the suffering of tens of millions. Congress cannot wait for this crisis to worsen before passing an aid package – that would show a total disregard for the pain our constituents are facing.”
Maine Public reported on February 22 that: “Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden Jared Golden of Maine’s Second District says there are urgent needs that can’t wait the weeks it will take to finalize the package. House committees have been working hard to put the final touches on President Joe Biden’s relief bill, but Golden says some needs should take immediate priority as states and local governments ramp up their vaccination efforts. Those include vaccine doses and distribution as well as personal protective equipment, which he says should be passed now.”
Paycheck Protection Program...
Paycheck Protection Program’s (PPP) co-author U.S. Senator Susan Collins’ office reports that more than 8,500 small employers in Maine have been approved for more than $601 million in forgivable PPP loans since the program reopened in January.
Sen. Collins said in a Feb. 24 press release: “The latest PPP numbers showing that nearly 1,000 additional Maine small businesses have received nearly $50 million in forgivable loans in the span of just one week is good news for jobs and our economy,” said Senator Collins. “It is also encouraging that the data show that the smallest employers continue to be the biggest beneficiaries of the PPP. Eligible small business owners should contact their financial institution about applying so that their businesses can survive the pandemic and continue to pay their employees.”
Sen. Collins’ press release also mentioned that: “Financial institutions across Maine and the country are currently accepting and processing PPP applications for eligible small businesses seeking a forgivable loan for the first time and for those hardest hit small businesses who may receive a second forgivable loan. Under a new Biden Administration policy, beginning on Wednesday, February 24, there will be a two-week period during which only businesses with fewer than 20 employees may apply for a PPP loan.”
And, “in 2020, more than 28,000 Maine small businesses and self-employed individuals received nearly $2.3 billion in forgivable PPP loans, helping to support more than 250,000 jobs throughout the state.”
On February 22, the Associated Press reported in both the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald shared that: “A further renewal of the program is not included in Biden’s $1.9 trillion ‘American Rescue Plan,’ which he hopes Congress will pass in the coming weeks.”
Information for first-time PPP applicants, those who previously received a loan, and other SBA relief programs can be found at https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program.
In Other News…
This week, Sen. Collins introduced legislation to increase access to broadband services to rural Americans. In a February 24 press release, Sen. Collins announced that she and Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) introduced the American Broadband Buildout Act (ABBA). According to the press release, ABBA is “a bipartisan bill to ensure that rural Americans have access to broadband services at speeds they need to fully participate in the modern society and economy. The legislation would help close the ‘digital divide’ between urban and rural America by providing up to $15 billion in matching grants to assist states and state-approved entities build the ‘last-mile’ infrastructure to bring high-speed broadband directly to homes and businesses in areas that lack it. The current pandemic has brought these connectivity challenges into stark relief as many Americans have had to move their studies, health care services, and workplaces online.”
Maine State Chamber President and CEO Dana Connors was quoted in the press release: “The American Broadband Buildout Act would provide a much-needed boost to small businesses throughout Maine, providing them with the high-speed Internet access they need to stay connected and competitive. We thank Senator Collins for her continued efforts to support Maine’s rural communities and small businesses as we work to rebuild our economy and expand our broadband infrastructure.”
U.S. Senator Angus King, who is recognized as one of Congress’s leading experts on cyber defense and a strong advocate for a forward-thinking cyber strategy that emphasizes layered cyber deterrence, stressed at a February 23 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing, “the importance of strengthening America’s cyber defenses to support national security.” The press release his office issued also stated, “Senator King emphasized the need to not only defend our systems, but defend forward by strengthening deterrence of cyberattacks. Senator King also highlighted the value of building international consensus in order to confront malicious cyber actors.” Sen. King is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and co-chair of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission.
From Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s newsroom, Maine’s First District Representative to the U.S. House “joined her colleagues on the House Rural Broadband Caucus in sending a bipartisan letter with more than 70 other Representatives asking President Biden to prioritize broadband investments in underserved areas of rural America as part of any infrastructure proposal his administration presents to Congress. In the letter, the Representatives wrote: ‘As you develop your infrastructure proposal to present to Congress, we write to urge you to include investments that will bring the benefits of broadband connectivity to unserved rural America and tribal areas. In the 21st Century, high-speed broadband is no longer a luxury amenity, but rather an essential service for homes and businesses in this interconnected world.’”
On February 17, Congressman Jared Golden’s office announced that Maine’s Second District Representative to the U.S. House has been named a Vice Chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee overseeing military shipbuilding. According to the press release, “As Vice Chair, Golden takes on an elevated role on the subcommittee, which oversees naval acquisition and contracts for military shipbuilding performed at Bath Iron Works, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and other shipyards across the country. Rep. Golden will also serve on House Armed Services Subcommittee for Readiness.”