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AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Gov. Janet Mills announced on Sunday that she would submit an emergency bill to extend unemployment benefits to people affected by the new coronavirus, including those who work for closed businesses, are in quarantine or are at risk of infection.
The Democratic governor’s proposal comes as the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn indefinitely on Tuesday because of concerns about the virus. Seven Mainers have logged presumptive positive tests for the virus with preliminary positive results for five others still under review and several school districts have announced closures taking effect this week.
Mills’ proposal will be among only a handful measures expected to be considered by lawmakers by Tuesday. The governor is also expected to make significant coronavirus-related changes to a supplemental budget proposal originally proposed last month at a cost of $127 million. The changes have not been announced yet by the administration.
The governor’s proposal adheres to new federal guidance on unemployment benefits, which are paid for by taxes on employers. People who work for businesses that close temporarily, people who are quarantined but expect to return to work and people who leave employment due to risk of exposure or to care for a family member would qualify under the proposed changes.
Mills also requested on Sunday that the federal government provide loans to small businesses affected by the coronavirus. The U.S. Small Business Administration has said it would authorize low-interests loans of up to $2 million for small businesses if state governors make such a request. The loans will be used to help businesses pay debt, payrolls or other basic expenses.
The unemployment change was endorsed by Democrats leading the Maine Legislature on Sunday, with Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, saying in a statement it would ensure “the stool doesn’t fall out” from under Maine workers “in the face of economic uncertainty.”
It is not expected to be controversial in the Legislature. Sen. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, who serves on the labor committee, said she had drafted a similar unemployment bill on Friday before contacting the governor’s office, which was drafting this plan. She said it was needed to “take care of Maine families” during the outbreak.
Greg Dugal, director of government affairs for Hospitality Maine, an advocacy group for the hotel and restaurant industry, said his group is “100 percent” supportive of the efforts as moves that will enable smaller firms to make payroll or allow employees to be paid during stoppages.