For Immediate Release Media contact: Jen Webber
Friday, March 27, 2020 Cell: 207-939-0213
Maine State Chamber of Commerce Statement on Federal COVID-19 Stimulus Package
AUGUSTA, MAINE -- “The Maine State Chamber of Commerce greatly appreciates the work Maine’s federal delegation, U.S. Congress and the White House have done to craft the bipartisan, $2 trillion CARE Act stimulus package,” said Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting businesses in every sector, of every size and economies at every level. The rescue package passed today is critical to first helping ensure Maine’s hospitals have the resources they need to care for our fellow Mainers. It also will help ensure that Maine businesses, employees, families, and our state and local economies endure the pandemic so Maine can get back to business as usual when this crisis passes.”
A brief video of Maine State Chamber President Dana Connors commenting on the Families First Coronavirus Response Act can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awfuB8VvSms&feature=youtu.be.
Detailed COVID-19 information and resources for employers and employees are regularly updated at www.mainechamber.org/covid19.html.
March 26, 2020 4:14 PM
After months of gathering comments and input from around the state, the Maine Department of Labor (DOL) last evening released draft rules that will help determine the implementation and operation of Maine’s “Paid Time Off” (PTO) law, passed by the Legislature in 2019. The PTO law sprung out of LD 369, An Act Authorizing Earned Employee Leave, which was enacted after numerous negotiations between Gov. Mills’ administration, legislators, and the business community. Originally more than 10 pages long and focused on providing full- and part- time workers with paid sick leave, the bill was re-drafted by the governor to instead provide PTO to the same group of employees. The re-drafted bill was less than a page-and-a-half long, and while it laid out the basics of the leave parameters, it left much of the specifics to rulemaking, which would be conducted under the direction of the Maine DOL.
The law requires any Maine business with more than 10 employees to provide their full- and part-time workers with up to 40 hours of paid time off. Workers accrue one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked to a max of 40 hours. They must be employed by the business for 120 days to be eligible to take the leave. The leave can be used for any reason, but employees are supposed to give reasonable notice of intent to take the time.
As part of the rulemaking process, the department conducted a series of “listening” sessions around the state. The department began this process in late October 2019 and held nearly a dozen meetings from as far north as Presque Isle, to Machias, Portland and Sanford, to name a few. While the comment sessions were for both employers and employees, they were predominantly attended by small businesses that were concerned with the mechanics of implementation, costs, and complexity.
The DOL wound down its meetings in December 2019 and indicated it hoped to have draft rules finalized by mid-April, so yesterday’s publication of the draft rules is somewhat surprising. While the Maine State Chamber has not had a chance to delve into the draft in any depth, which continue to be surprisingly short on specifics given the sheer volume of comments received at each listening session. In fact, when compiled, the total number of questions and clarifications requested by small businesses generated nearly a dozen, single-spaced pages. The link to the draft rules can be found here.
Again, a quick review seems to indicate that employers received some of what they were looking for in terms their concerns over implementation, but not in other areas. For example, the rules indicated that if you cash out any other kind of leave benefit upon separation, you must also do so with any unused PTO time. This runs contrary to discussions in the Labor and Housing committee last session and creates a significate financial liability for impacted employers, particularly small businesses. When considering this particular requirement, it’s important to remember that, while many employers provide paid benefits to their full-time employees, they don’t provide it to part-time workers. Some small businesses don’t currently provide any paid leave. Therefore, some businesses are going to incur “sticker shock” with this requirement.
In the press statement released last evening, the department intends to conduct a virtual public hearing on the rules on April 15, 2020, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Given the current need for social distancing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this isn’t a surprising development. Individuals will have up to three minutes to deliver comments at that time. A link detailing how to participate in the virtual hearing can be found here.
If businesses want to provide comment but not do so virtually, written comments can be submitted electronically through an online submission form. https://www.maine.gov/labor/proposedrulemaking/ Public comments may be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org; please note that it is about Earned Paid Leave Rules in the subject line. Mailed correspondence can be sent to Maine Department of Labor at 54 State House Station, Augusta, Maine 04330-0054. All submissions require your full name as well as a place of residence. The public comment period remains open until 5:00 p.m. on Monday, April 27, 2020.
The Maine State Chamber has closely followed the development of these rules since their enactment last year. We attended the majority of the statewide listening sessions and have met with DOL staff since then. While we intend to have a detailed breakdown of both the good and the bad in the draft rules in the coming days, we are concerned with their brevity given all the questions and comments provided. Employers were looking for clarity and certainty – especially given the incredibly difficult times in which they currently find themselves operating, and certainly into the foreseeable future. That isn’t clear in this version. And whether the public comment period adds to that certainly or not is like many things today – unclear.
The Maine State Chamber will be providing comment on the draft rules both in writing and virtually. For more information or questions, please contact Peter Gore by calling (207) 458-0490 or emailing email@example.com.
March 26, 2020 4:14 PM
When Washington, D.C., passes a two-trillion-dollar relief package for the American people not even 24 hours ago, there is a lot of information contained in that and a lot to digest. For example, some of the high-level things included in it are:
The Paycheck Protection Program through the Small Business Administration: A nearly $350 billion program to provide eight weeks of cash-flow assistance to small businesses through 100 percent federally-guaranteed loans to employers who maintain their payroll during this emergency. If employers maintain their payroll, the loans would be forgiven, which would help workers to remain employed and affected small businesses and the nation’s economy to quickly snap-back after the crisis.
Unemployment Benefits: People who are unemployed would get an extra $600 per week for up to four months, on top of state unemployment benefits to make up for 100 percent of lost wages. The final agreement provides an extra month of unemployment benefits than what Senate Republicans had originally sought.
Loans to Industries – $500 billion: The Treasury Department would divvy up a $500-billion collection of loans to struggling industries, like airlines, and even cities and states.
Checks on the Way: All U.S. residents with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 ($150,000 for married couples) would get a $1,200 ($2,400 for couples) “rebate” payment. They are also eligible for an additional $500 per child. The payments would start phasing out for earners above those income thresholds and would not go to single filers earning more than $99,000; head-of-household filers with one child, more than $146,500; and, more than $198,000 for joint filers with no children.
Hospitals – $100 Billion: Health care providers would secure $100 billion in grants to help fight the coronavirus and make up for dollars they have lost by delaying elective surgeries and other procedures to focus on the outbreak. They would also get a 20 percent bump in Medicare payments for treating patients with the virus.
There is a lot of information about the package coming out every minute. We found three overviews that we believe will be the most helpful to Maine businesses. Both U.S. Senator Susan Collins and U.S. Senator Angus King have put out statements that summarize what is in the package. We have included links below for easy access to this information. In addition, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has put together a detailed 12-page summary of what is included in the package that even includes links to the actual legislation. Below is a link to that summary as well.
Senator Collins Press Release:
Senator King Press Release:
US Chamber of Commerce Summary:
As you’d expect, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Maine’s regional and local chambers of commerce are closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation. We recognize that information is plentiful and fast-changing, but not always accurate or well-organized. With that in mind, we have developed a web-based clearinghouse of information – MaineChamber.org/covid19.html – to help you find answers to critical questions relating to this pandemic's impact on Maine businesses. We are hopeful that this resource will assist you in taking care of yourself and your family, your employees, your business, and your community.
As always, we are here to answer your questions and to listen to your concerns – and to provide answers when we can. Please connect with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com with questions and concerns.
As you are well-aware, the situation related to Coronavirus changes hourly. We are in unprecedented and uncertain times, on the front lines of history perhaps! Mainers come from tough stock and excel at working together in times of crisis. The Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Maine’s regional and local chambers of commerce are closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation.