Message from Congresswoman Chellie Pingree

Dear Friend,

When Maine’s students moved from the classroom to online lessons, our educational system had to adapt to a new normal overnight. As a parent, grandparent, and former school board member, I deeply appreciate the contributions of all school personnel and understand how difficult this shift has been for families. With little time to prepare, and sometimes with their own children at home, educators have had adopt new methods of reaching students.

ImageThis week I joined Maine teachers on a Zoom call to hear directly from them about the challenges they are facing during this pandemic. These educators told me that they worry about the well-being of their pupils and have unresolved questions like: How will students without adequate broadband access their schoolwork? Will my student from a food-insecure household have enough to eat? How will students who need extra support in the classroom get the help they need? Taking it all day by day, educators, parents and students are rising to the occasion, but that doesn't mean it has been easy. 

I recently announced that Maine will receive $44 million in grant funding through the CARES Act to support distance learning during this pandemic. As one of the most rural states in the country, Maine students are particularly impacted by the “homework gap” that exists between children who have reliable internet access at home and those who do not. Congressman Jared Golden and I have been pushing for Maine students to have the technology and tools they need to continue their education—we've urged the FCC to expand funding to the E-Rate program, which would allow the purchase of mobile hotspots to support Maine students who don't have access to high-speed broadband. 

If any of your family or friends are interested in hearing from my office, please have them sign up for my newsletter here. My website is also updated with resources and congressional actions on COVID-19, located at pingree.house.gov/coronavirus. You can also check out my FacebookInstagram, and Twitter for updates.

Best, 

Chellie


Update from Maine

As you are likely aware, Governor Mills this week issued a phased plan to reopen our state. Though this plan is dependent on our success in managing COVID-19 and can be adjusted as public health experts deem necessary, it is important that our state establishes a vision for getting back to a more normal way of doing things. Visit www.maine.gov/covid19/restartingmaine for more information.

Governor Mills has also emphasized the importance of wearing a face covering in public settings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and help us to flatten the curve. Starting today, Friday, May 1, Mainers are required to wear a mask when they leave their homes. Do you need a pattern to make your own face mask? Here's one I've been using to make masks for my family. 

ImageSome Maine-themed masks I made this week.

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We've all made the transition to virtual meetings, conferences, and events. This week, I was lucky to join Americans for the Arts during a Zoom conference for their National Arts Action Digital Summit, where we discussed how the CARES Act has helped arts organizations around the country. Maine has a world class arts community and our organizations will need support to weather this challenge. Their organization also has a great list of resources for arts and cultural organizations, which you can access here.

I also joined the James Beard Foundation to discuss the challenges the food system, farms, and restaurant industry are experiencing during the coronavirus pandemic. Maine has a strong local food system, including our award-winning restaurants, small farms, and seafood industry. You can watch a recording of our webinar here.

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What Congress is Doing to Respond to the Coronavirus

With income and sales tax revenues drastically reduced, Maine is facing its largest shortfall in over 30 years. As a former state legislator, I know how severely this will impact both our public health and economic responses. We need federal support for state and local governments, who have shouldered a large burden as we take measures to slow the spread of this virus. That's why this week I cosponsored the Coronavirus Relief for States Act, which would provide states like Maine with a significant financial boost and offer us the flexibility needed to fill in the gaps created by this pandemic. Funding in H.R. 6592 would be allocated based on population size and would offer lots of flexibility as we navigate this uncharted territory.

ImageWhile Congress' efforts to support small businesses across America have been helpful for some, there are a lot of Maine businesses that haven't been helped. 96% of Maine businesses are small businesses, which employ more than half of our workforce. Our smallest mom-and-pop shops and seasonal operations haven't been able to access PPP or EIDL funds in the same way as other businesses. For Maine’s diverse network of small businesses and non-profits, we must create the equivalent of a stimulus check for them to keep operating. That's why I cosponsored the Restore America’s Main Street Act, legislation to support small businesses by providing them with unrestricted direct cash relief to keep their businesses in operation. H.R. 6619 would create the first-ever small business rebate check to pay employees, rent, and other general businesses expenses. Direct payments to these businesses will ensure they can support their workers and pay rent until the economy gets going again.

I also joined my colleagues on the Relief for America's Small Farmers Act, which would support small Maine farms by providing one-time debt forgiveness of up to $250,000 for farmers who hold existing loans with USDA. Small farms are critical to food security and are the economic engine of rural communities. This bill will help small farmers who have not benefitted from previous trade bailouts and other relief packages to weather this unexpected downturn


Frequently Asked Questions

Starting today, May 1, Maine Department of Labor (MDOL) is accepting applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), an expanded form of unemployment assistance that will cover more people affected by the coronavirus pandemic. This includes self-employed workers (including most farmers and fishermen), independent contractors, gig economy workers, and others.

Am I covered by PUA? Congress intended for PUA to be broadly available for people in many different employment scenarios who aren’t eligible for traditional unemployment. Some potentially covered scenarios are covered by MDOL here. Generally, if you’re not working or not being paid as much as usual, you should consider applying.
 
How do I apply? Instructions are available here. Claims are accepted online 24 hours a day, seven days a week; it is best to file from a computer and in the evening when internet traffic is reduced. Don’t worry if you can’t get an application in immediately – you’ll still receive all the retroactive benefits for which you’re eligible. MDOL is receiving a high volume of calls about claims for unemployment benefits, but if you have immediate questions, you can call a special line for PUA claims at 1-888-413-0820. The line will be taking calls tomorrow (Saturday May 2) from 8am to noon, along with normal weekday operations.

How much would I get in benefits? The state will determine your weekly benefit through a formula based on your income history. In Maine, the maximum weekly benefit amount is $445.00. The average weekly benefit amount is roughly $340.00. In addition, people who receive PUA will receive an additional $600 weekly federal benefit.

Are immigrants and asylum seekers eligible? If immigrants or asylum seekers have work authorization and lose their job due to COVID-19, they should apply for unemployment.


Resources and Community Updates

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MaineHousing has a COVID-19 rent relief program for renters who cannot afford to pay their rent due to the coronavirus pandemic. More here.

Starting today, May 1, Maine Department of Labor is accepting applications for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an expanded form of unemployment assistance that will cover more people affected by the coronavirus pandemic. This includes self employed workers, farmers, fishermen, independent contractors, gig economy workers, and others. More information here.

The Library of Congress is offering lots of public programming and resources for teachers, students, and families:

  • By the People — the Library’s crowdsourcing initiative, where the public transcribes and makes available original correspondence of historical figures like Abraham Lincoln. More here.
  • A webinar for teachers on how to use the Library’s online education resources and digitized primary source materials in online classrooms, available here.

Thanks to a generous $100,000 grant from the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, Maine farms with active loans from Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI) will receive debt relief covering principal and interest payments for three months beginning in May. The farms in CEI’s portfolio are located in 11 of Maine’s 16 counties, reflecting the diversity of the state’s agricultural industry. Farm businesses have been especially hit hard by the unanticipated, immediate loss of revenue and severe disruptions in supply and demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More here.

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