Lawmakers make their way to the House Chamber for votes on Capitol Hill, Thursday, April 23, 2020, in Washington. The House is expected to vote on a nearly $500 billion Coronavirus relief bill. Credit: Andrew Harnik | AP

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It has been only six weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic began dramatically impacting Maine. Second to protecting public health and keeping people safe, the well-being of Maine’s economy, businesses, and workforce is paramount during this unprecedented time. Maine’s small businesses are getting hit particularly hard by this crisis. The ripple effect is undeniable.

Swift actions have been taken by the private and public sectors to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19. The leadership of Gov. Janet Mills and the efforts of Maine’s elected representatives in Washington on behalf of Maine businesses are laudable and greatly appreciated.

Consider the work at the federal level. With near-unanimous support where gridlock and partisanship are the norm, Congress and the White House rapidly enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

A key component of the CARES Act is the Paycheck Protection Program. Co-authored by Sen. Susan Collins, the PPP is an economic relief plan initially allocating $350 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses and employers struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic. PPP provides loan amounts up to 250 percent of an employer’s monthly payroll expenses. They are forgivable if at least 75 percent of the loan is spent on payroll. The intent is to help employers keep their employees paid and employed at a time when a record number of people are filing for unemployment.

In just two weeks — thanks in large part to the Herculean work of Maine lending institutions who implemented new loan processes in mere days — nearly 16,700 businesses across Maine were approved for $2.2 billion in these much-needed emergency loans to help them stay afloat during the pandemic.

Imagine where Maine’s and the nation’s economies would be without the PPP’s rescue funds. They literally are a lifeline for employers across Maine and the country.

Congress has approved, and President Donald Trump signed, a $310 billion infusion in the PPP, as well as additional funding for other emergency loan programs, hospitals and COVID-19 testing. This is welcome news for Maine’s small businesses and our state’s economy.

Employers who have not yet applied for a rescue loan are advised to contact their lender right away to see how these loans can help, and to start the application process. The future of Maine’s and the nation’s economies depend on employers accessing this aid.

Maine chambers of commerce also are looking ahead to reopening the state’s economy so Maine can get back to business. Maine must begin planning now, and we need to plan well to reopen safely, responsibly and successfully. Valuable guidance from the White House and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is helping direct states.

Both Collins and Sen. Angus King have been appointed to the White House task force on reopening the economy. This is a true testament to their leadership, experience and expertise, and to the importance of small-business states like Maine.

We appreciate Mills’ thoughtful consideration on developing a plan for a gradual, phased-in reopening based on Maine’s demographics and economic sectors. The pandemic is affecting various parts of Maine differently, and different regions and business sectors will find it easier to ramp up than others. There is no one-size-fits-all playbook.

We support efforts by the governor and our congressional delegation to make sure states have the resources needed to make sure economies are reopened successfully. Those resources include personal protective equipment, and widespread testing and contact tracing capabilities.

Finally, it has been remarkable to witness so many Maine people, essential workers and businesses step up and pitch in in unique ways to help others. Mainers’ ingenuity, innovative thinking, character and resilience are shining through.

We are in this together, and by continuing to work together to collaborate on solutions that offer meaningful assistance now and a solid plan going forward, Maine will be in a strong position to successfully reopen for business when this crisis passes.

We hope you will visit our websites for more information. Please also send us your questions. If we cannot answer them, we will find out who can.

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.

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