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Business and Economy

Gov. Mills announces $139 million in spending as the first phase of Maine's economic recovery plan

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Steve Mistler
/
Maine Public
Gov. Janet Mills and her economic development chief Heather Johnson tour businesses in Lewiston on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021 to tout the release of pandemic recovery funds and grants.

Gov. Janet Mills toured several businesses in Lewiston on Monday to promote the first round of investments in her nearly $1 billion Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan. The initiative was approved by the Legislature in July as part of a change to the state's two-year budget and it may also prove useful as the democratic incumbent readies her campaign for a second term.

Although Monday's event wasn't billed as an official campaign stop, it marked the third time in less than a week that the governor has hit the road to tout an achievement from her first term.

Addressing reporters outside of an Italian eatery in the electorally crucial city of Lewiston, Mills noted that the state's economy had fared better than most states during the pandemic and she credited her administration for having a plan ready to quickly distribute a significant influx of federal cash to further assist the state's recovery.

"Maine people are ready. We've beaten back the pandemic better than most all other states and we're on the path to recovery. But we've got work to do and everybody knows it," Mills said.

That work, she said, includes assisting businesses that had to reduce hours, staff and costs when the pandemic first hit — and that continue to struggle amid workforce shortages and A rampaging delta variant that has hampered economic growth in Maine and nationally.

The $139 million in spending announced Monday is the first part the governor's economic plan.

It includes $20 million for a new small business grant program, $39 million to support lower health insurance premiums, and $80 million to replenish the Maine Unemployment Trust fund, and mitigate tax hikes on small businesses.

Maine State Chamber of Commerce President Dana Connors, who joined Mills for the event, said the infusion of cash in the unemployment trust fund will stave off crippling hikes on taxes that businesses have to pay to keep the fund solvent.

"Without this $80 million investment we could be looking at increases in the unemployment tax of nearly 60%," Connors said.

Mills said more help is on the way, including $300 million in workforce investments that include education and skills programs, housing, childcare assistance and worker recruitment.

Mill said she hopes those initiatives will help to address the state's labor shortage.

Overall, Maine has received $4.5 billion in federal stimulus aid.

Mills' challenger, former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, described the influx of funds as "Washington welfare" during his campaign kickoff last month.

But Mills isn't deterred, promising that additional state help will be forthcoming as she pursues a three-phased economic strategy of recovery, long-term growth and infrastructure spending.