A legislative committee on Tuesday recommended that the Legislature pass an emergency bill to provide financial relief for federal employees in Maine during any future government shutdowns.
If a shutdown lasts longer than 14 days, the proposal, LD 477, would guarantee any of the roughly 1,100 Mainers working for the federal government access to up to $15,000 in interest-free loans from their local bank or credit union.
After tabling a vote last Thursday, the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee endorsed the bill, sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, on Tuesday. The bill needs two-thirds support in both chambers to take effect immediately.
All but two committee members voted to recommend the bill — Rep. Josh Morris, R-Turner, and Rep. Gregg Swallow, R-Houlton.
Swallow said the bill “concerns me greatly,” because it sets a “precedent for the state to get involved in unsecured personal loans.”
Sen. Heather Sanborn, D-Portland, who serves as the committee chair, disagreed and said, “I think it’s a pretty important signal for us to send.”
Under the bill, any federal employee going without pay would be eligible to receive up to $5,000 in three staggered installments, depending on the length of the shutdown.
Jackson proposed the bill in January when Washington lawmakers’ inability to strike a deal over whether to fund President Donald Trump’s southern border wall led to the longest shutdown in the nation’s history. The government temporarily reopened last month with the potential for another shutdown to begin Friday, though lawmakers appear to have struck a deal in the meantime.
Jackson’s bill now goes to the Senate and House for floor votes that could take place as early as Thursday. If both chambers endorse it with two-thirds majorities, it will head to Gov. Janet Mills, who has endorsed the measure.
If approved, it would apply to any partial or full shutdown through the end of 2019. The loans, administered by the Finance Authority of Maine, would become available two weeks after the bill is passed into law.