As of October 18th, Governor Mills’ plan to support Maine’s small businesses and workers, the Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan (the Plan), is in effect. The Plan allocates nearly $1 billion in American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds to provide immediate economic recovery from the pandemic, promote long-term economic growth, and revitalize infrastructure in Maine.
“These initial investments, which deliver crucial financial relief to small businesses and Maine people, are a down-payment on these efforts,” said Governor Janet Mills. “When combined with our forthcoming investments to rebuild our workforce, expand access to child care and housing, and support new, innovative industries, we will build a stronger state and a better economy that provides people with good-paying jobs, the opportunity to put down roots, and an unmatched quality of life.”
The Plan includes more than $300 million in planned workforce investments, including education and skills training programs, workforce housing, and childcare. Over the last few weeks, the Governor’s office has released the details on several Plan initiatives. These initiatives include nearly $139 million in relief funds allocated toward efforts supporting Maine’s small businesses, more than $14 million to support employers and workers in the health care sector, and more than $30 million to help Mainers save on heating and electricity and support local energy efficiency businesses.
Maine Jobs & Recovery Small Business Grant Program
The Plan allocates $20 million to the Maine Jobs & Recovery Small Business Grant Program. The program allocates $5 million of that total for expense-based grant relief, specifically targeting “capital intensive businesses that still need immediate short-term help to sustain operations.” As of November 3rd, The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development is accepting applications.
In April 2022, the remaining $15 million will become available, and businesses and non-profits will be able to apply for grants based on their funding needs. Because of the timing, these organizations will be able to use their tax returns to demonstrate their need based on the financial impact of the pandemic.
Small Business Health Insurance Premium Relief Program
In July, The Maine Legislature passed LD 1733, a bill allocating federal funds from the ARPA to a temporary program to reduce health insurance premium costs for small businesses and their employees. In order for the Maine Bureau of Insurance to launch the Small Business Health Insurance Premium Relief Program, $39 million in funding was transferred to the Bureau on October 18th.
The program provides relief payments to small group carriers; in turn, those carriers must pass along savings of at least $50 a month per employee for a period of 18 months beginning in November 2021 and through April 30, 2023. For couples and families, relief increases to $80 for one adult and a child. For two adults, relief increases to $100. And for two adults and a child, relief increases to $130.
All insurance carriers in Maine offering fully-insured small group plans in Maine are participating in this program, including Aetna, Anthem, CHO (Community Health Options), Harvard Pilgrim, and United Healthcare. The program will operate under the direction of the Maine Bureau of Insurance, and participating small group carriers will be subject to audits performed by the Bureau.
Employers and employees must share any reductions in premium costs on a pro-rata basis, according to their contributions to the premiums; however, employers may pass on more or all of the savings to their workers should they so choose.
Additional program information may be found on the Maine Bureau of Insurance’s Information Sheet, FAQs for Employers and Employees, and their Credit Calculator for Small Businesses. The Maine Bureau of Insurance directs business owners to contact their insurance carrier first and direct additional questions to the Bureau. They may be reached by phone at 1-800-300-5000 or via email at Insurance.PFR@Maine.gov.
The Maine Unemployment Trust Fund
The Plan also includes a third infusion in funding to Maine’s Unemployment Trust Fund. This round includes $80 million in funding to help stave off tax increases on the State’s small businesses by providing alternative funding for state unemployment benefits. The Maine Department of Labor estimates that, without these investments from the Governor, “employer unemployment taxes in both 2021 and 2022 likely would have more than doubled.”
Health Care Jobs & Workers
The Plan includes more than $14 million in relief funding to employers and workers in the health care sector. The Plan establishes tuition support programs to make pursuing jobs in health care more affordable for Mainers by providing scholarships and student loan relief to students pursuing careers as nurses, doctors, or other health professionals. These programs apply to all sectors, including long-term care, hospital, behavioral health, and dental, and are available regardless of an employer’s size.
The Plan also creates a remission program that will provide funding to health care employers or interested employees to help them earn advanced credentials, advance in their careers, and learn new skills free of charge. According to the press release, “investing in training and credential attainment for incumbent frontline health care workers, the program will help improve retention rates and increase the average wage among health care workers, improving outcomes for health care employers and their systems overall.”
Additional funds have been allocated toward a partnership effort between the Maine Departments of Health and Human Services, Economic and Community Development, and Labor intended “to launch a public service campaign to promote the value and importance of the health care profession with the goal of recruiting more people, especially young adults, into the field.”
Efficiency Maine Trust & Clean Energy Workforce Partnership
The Plan allocates $25 million to Efficiency Maine Trust to help more Mainers weatherize their homes. These efforts are intended to reduce reliance on carbon-emitting fossil fuels, help Mainers save money on their annual heating and electricity bills, and support Maine’s local energy efficiency businesses. Efficiency Maine Trust will issue rebates, ranging from $600 to $9,600, through local contractors for weatherization, including everything from weatherstripping doors and windows to insulating attics and basements. Additional program information may be found at efficiencymaine.com.
The price of heating fuels and electricity in Maine is expected to rise this winter due to global energy markets. To that end, the Governor also announced that approximately $70 million is available in addition to Plan funds to help Mainers “pay their heating and electricity bills, weatherize their homes, or receive emergency fuel deliveries through MaineHousing and local community action agencies, like Penquis” this winter.
Governor Mills set a goal for Maine of 30,000 clean energy jobs by 2030. To help reach that goal, the Plan allocates $5.5 million to provide career training opportunities and apprenticeships to help Mainers obtain the skills that allow them to fill good-paying jobs in the State’s clean energy sector. According to the State of Maine’s press release, “Starting early next year, the Partnership will convene state agencies, private-sector partners, Maine’s community colleges, the University of Maine system, labor organizations, municipalities, and others to develop programs and tools to grow the clean energy workforce in Maine.”
My team at ARB will be watching the situation closely, and we will issue updates as additional Plan details and initiatives are announced. Please visit our COVID-19 Financial Resource and Tax Center for additional information, and feel free to contact me if you have questions.
by David Jean, CPA, CCIFP, CExP
David Jean is a firm principal and the Practice Leader for ARB’s Business Advisory, Construction & Real Estate, and Succession Planning Services Groups. David focuses primarily on financial accounting and consulting for construction, real estate, and manufacturing companies. He is a member of The Certified Public Accountant Advisory Council, an exclusive, 10-member council formed to serve as the resource team for the National Association of Surety Bond Producers (NASBP).