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Envelope shortage presents possible hiccup for Janet Mills' $850 relief payments

Maine Gov. Janet Mills speaks to reporters, in this Wednesday, May 4, 2022, file photo, at the State House win Augusta, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
Maine Gov. Janet Mills speaks to reporters, in this Wednesday, May 4, 2022, file photo, at the State House win Augusta, Maine.

The Mills administration estimates it will soon begin distributing 200,000 inflation relief payments per week to qualifying Maine tax filers. There's just one potential glitch: a shortage of envelopes.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills vowed to expedite the $850 checks when she signed the state's supplemental budget into law in April and described the payments as an aggressive response to the rising costs of groceries, gas and other essentials.

"This represents one of the strongest, if not the strongest, relief proposals in the country," she said. "And I've directed my Department of Administrative and Financial Services to get these payments out the door as soon as they can and we're hoping to have the first checks out the door by the beginning of June."

Jenny Boyden, the associate commissioner of the administration's financial affairs agency, told the Legislature's budget committee Tuesday that the state is on track to meet the governor's request.

But a possible hiccup, Boyden said, is a lack of envelopes — yet another symptom of the global supply chain issues that have disrupted the shipment of other goods during the pandemic.

Boyden said the state ordered 800,000 additional envelopes in February.

"While we were expecting them before now, the vendor is telling is it may be late June, early July," Boyden said.

Boyden also said the financial affairs office has roughly 200,000 envelopes on hand and will use extras from the state treasury office as a contingency while awaiting arrival of the larger shipment.

On Wednesday, the Mills administration expressed confidence that the envelope shortage won't cause a delay in the payment rollout because the treasury office has confirmed that it has a sufficient number of envelopes to share with the finance department.

All told, the state expects to mail payments to 858,000 tax filers.

The Mills administration opted not to use direct deposit because while it has the mailing addresses of all taxpayers, it doesn't have bank routing information for many others.

State officials are also encouraging residents who don't normally file tax returns to do so soon so that they can receive their relief payment.

The filing deadline is Oct. 31.

Individuals who have an adjusted gross income of less than $100,000 qualify for the payments, as do couples earning less than $200,000. The average household is expected receive $1,700 by the end of July.

The payments were made possible by the state's $1.3 billion budget surplus and make up nearly 60% of it.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.