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The Coronavirus, or COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous disruption for every Mainer. Shops and businesses are closed or not operating as usual, many people are not working, many are working remotely while also looking after their children who are normally in school or childcare. Much of Maine’s workforce — health care workers, first responders, and other essential-services workers — are going above and beyond their regular duties, some risking their own health to take care of Mainers in need.
Adding to our worries about the health of our families, friends, co-workers and ourselves, many are profoundly concerned about how the businesses they own or work for are going to endure the pandemic. The immediate and long-term needs of Maine businesses, especially small businesses, are of utmost importance right now. Every Mainer relies on them. Not only for the services and goods they provide, but the jobs they create and the numerous contributions they, their employees and their families make to Maine’s economy and communities.
Maine’s state, regional and local chambers of commerce are working together to do everything we can to mitigate the pandemic’s economic impact. Assistance is coming together to help employers and workers weather the pandemic.
As part of our efforts, we are continually updating our websites and sharing resources available to help businesses stay afloat in the coming weeks. To date, resources include:
U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster assistance for Maine small businesses. The deadline to apply for assistance is December 16, 2020. Information is available at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela, or applicants can call SBA (800) 659-2955 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gov. Janet Mills has signed emergency legislation establishing a consumer loan guarantee program through the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME). FAME is partnering with SBA and Maine lenders to offer special, limited-time loans and loan insurance to eligible Maine businesses and sole proprietors affected by COVID-19. Interested borrowers should first contact their financial institution. They are advised to start the conversation now and not delay. More details are available at www.FAMEmaine.com.
State legislation was passed to make the unemployment insurance system more flexible. For employees, the usual one week waiting period for eligibility will be waived in the event of a COVID-19 related layoff. For employers, layoffs associated with COVID-19 will not count against their rating. More information can be found at https://www.maine.gov/labor/covid19/.
Federal aid proposals, not yet confirmed, are nearing $2 trillion. Sen. Susan Collins has proposed legislation to provide cash-flow assistance quickly to employers.
The chamber community also has launched Pay It Forward Maine, led by the Portland Regional Chamber, to encourage Mainers to support businesses however they can. These businesses are there for us every day. It is our turn to be there for them, whether it’s our favorite lunch spot, gym, yoga studio, book or hardware store. Pay It Forward Maine has put together ideas, most of which can be done online, that include: Utilizing delivery, take-out and curbside services at local businesses. Buying gift cards for ourselves or others to retailers, restaurants, shops, and movie, concert and theatre venues. Purchasing class passes for gyms and fitness studios. Purchasing merchandise from favorite retailers, breweries and restaurants. Volunteering time and more.
We hope people will share their # PayItForwardMaine plans on social media and challenge their friends to take part. Think of the impact if we all participate. Plus, connecting virtually with others during this time of “social distancing” may help us all feel less isolated. By helping our communities and local businesses, we may feel better knowing we are doing something to help one another.
We are stronger together, we are better together, and we are committed to supporting our communities, employers and all Maine people to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. These are unprecedented times, but we are optimistic that Maine will bounce back. Maine people have proved our resilience before. We surely will again.
If you are an employer with questions or concerns, please contact us at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Dana Connors is president and CEO of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. Quincy Hentzel is president and CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. Deb Neuman is president and CEO of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce.