Message from Congresswoman Chellie Pingree

Dear Friend,

More than 100,000 Americans have died of COVID-19

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Our fellow Mainers deserve to be respectfully remembered and mourned for the people they were and not as mere numbers. I am grateful Governor Mills lowered the flags in Maine to honor those we’ve lost to this terrible disease.

Balancing public health and the economic impact of stay-at-home orders is an unparalleled challenge. Our small businesses and their workers have had to make immense sacrifices and need urgent support from Congress. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), authorized in the CARES Act, was meant to be a lifeline for hard-hit small business owners who employ more than half of our state, but the PPP’s loan forgiveness provisions have proven unworkable for many.

Yesterday, I voted with my House colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass H.R. 7010, bipartisan legislation which would alter the PPP and make it more accessible to the small businesses most in need of relief. These businesses should not be driven deeper into the red because of shortcomings with this loan program that can be easily fixed by Congress. The Heroes Act, which passed the U.S. House on May 15, 2020 and has yet to be taken up to the Senate, would also make overdue changes to PPP. In fact, both The Heroes Act and H.R. 7010 would allow small businesses to claim PPP payroll forgiveness over a 24 week period, rather than 8 weeks. More information about H.R. 7010 is available in the body of this newsletter.

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 Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates.

Best, 

Chellie


Update from Maine

ImageThe Mills administration announced this week that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services will expand contract tracing in Maine so we can better prevent future outbreaks of COVID-19. The Department plans to hire 125 more full-time employees to conduct tracing.

The state has also delayed restaurant dine-in reopenings in Cumberland, York, and Androscoggin counties in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Outdoor dining will still open on Monday, June 1. 

The Maine congressional delegation joined together to protect nonprofits and their workers from a recent decision by the U.S. Department of Labor that would lead to unexpected, upfront costs Under recent guidance, the Department of Labor would require these nonprofits to cover 100% of the cost of unemployment compensation upfront, even though 50% of those costs are covered by federal contributions under the CARES Act. Most nonprofits, which employ one in every six workers in Maine, can’t bear this unexpected burden.


What Congress is Doing to Respond to the Coronavirus

This week, the United States House of Representatives held the first-ever remote votes in an effort to keep our colleagues, our constituents, and our country safe from the spread of COVID-19. I voted to pass legislation that would improve the Paycheck Protection Program. H.R. 7010, the bipartisan Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act, will alter the PPP and make it more accessible to small businesses that are most in need of relief. I also supported H.R. 6782, a bipartisan bill to provide more transparency over the PPP loan program. 

H.R. 7010 includes the following provisions to provide overdue relief to small businesses: 

-Allow small businesses to claim payroll forgiveness under PPP loans over a 24 week period, rather than 8 weeks;
-Extend the PPP loan coverage period through December 31, 2020, rather than June 30;
-Increase the amount, to 40%, of non-payroll costs that can be counted for full loan forgiveness (Treasury/SBA imposed a limit of 25%);
-Ensure small businesses are still eligible for loan forgiveness if they can certify that they are unable to rehire workers in the prescribed timeframe; 
-Ensure full access to payroll tax deferment for businesses that take PPP loans; and
-Extend loan terms from two years to five years.

ImageFrom this week's remote hearing on veteran care during the pandemic.

I also joined the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs for a hearing, where I asked VA Secretary Wilkie about food insecurity among veterans during COVID-19 and what the VA is doing to help alleviate it. More here.

This week, I announced the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) is now open for applications from Maine farms, who will receive direct payments from USDA. USDA is dispersing a total of $16 billion in direct payments to farmers across the country, $9.5 billion of which was funding I advocated for in the CARES Act. I hope Maine’s small farms will begin applying for this direct aid as soon as possible, but acknowledge this funding is not nearly enough to address the unique situations or offset the losses facing our local growers. Applications are open through August 28 and more information is available here.


Frequently Asked Questions

I had a flight that was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the airline only offered me a credit. Am I entitled to a refund instead? Yes. If an airline cancels your flight, you are eligible for a cash refund. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, both domestic and foreign airlines remain obligated to provide prompt refunds to passengers for flights to, within, or from the U.S. when the carrier cancels the scheduled flight. Refunds are required even when the flight disruption it outside of the carrier's control, i.e. in the case of a global pandemic. More from the Department of Transportation

I am an SSI recipient/Social Security beneficiary. Where is my Economic Impact Payment? The IRS began issuing Economic Impact Payments to SSI recipients and Social Security beneficiaries with representative payees on May 26. Paper checks will be mailed starting May 27. You can use the IRS tool Get My Payment to check the status of your payment.

I received my stimulus payment via a pre-loaded debit card, not a check or direct deposit. Why? You received an EIP Card because you are eligible for an Economic Impact Payment and the IRS did not have your bank account information. Your Economic Impact Payment was deposited to your EIP Card account. The EIP Card allows you to quickly access your Economic Impact Payment. More about the EIP here

Someone used my information to make a false unemployment claim. What can I do to fix this? Maine Department of Labor received more than 1,000 reports of potential unemployment imposter fraud. To date, DOL has identified and cancelled around 2,200 unemployment claims determined to be fradulent. The Maine Department of Labor is taking steps to investigate this issue. If you believe that someone has used your information to file a fraudulent unemployment application, notify the Maine Department of Labor here.You can also report fraud to the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline.


Resources and Community Updates

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The Maine Grain Alliance is awarding grants to business owners who purchase, grow, or process local grains and have experienced hardship during the pandemic. The deadline for the Emergency Relief Fund's application is June 5 at 5pm. More available here.

June is PTSD Awareness Month. Treatment options are available even during the coronavirus. Find more from the VA here.

Hospitality Maine is offering the COVID-19 Restaurant Readiness Program with Eastern Maine Community College, a free, online training for restaurant workers to learn the state's new reopening rules for restaurants. Classes are available here.

Cultivating Community has opened a FarmDrop site at 62 Elm Street in Portland. The online farmers market is available Saturday through Tuesday and items are available for pickup on Thursday. More information here.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Development Foundation both have comprehensive lists of resources for small businesses. Grants, funding, and loans are all available.

The City of Portland has three emergency business assistance programs: the Portland Rapid Response Micro Loan Program; the Business Assistance Program for Job Creation, and the Microenterprise Grant Program. More information available on the city's website.

USDA Maine Rural Development has a variety of resources for agriculture-related businesses, which are available here.

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