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HAMPDEN, Maine — Aid to state and local governments and the U.S. Postal Services are among the issues that U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is working on in negotiations on the next federal coronavirus aid package, she told reporters on Wednesday.
Both issues have drawn attention from all other members of Maine’s congressional delegation, as well as some of Collins’ opponents in the 2020 U.S. Senate race, but Congress failed to reach an agreement on either before breaking for Memorial Day at the end of last week.
Speaking to reporters outside a USPS processing plant in Hampden, the Republican senator said she was working with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on securing $25 billion in funding to help USPS meet payroll, the same amount included for the agency in a proposal by House Democrats earlier this month. USPS has said that it will likely run out of money by the end of the summer without federal help.
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Collins also told reporters that she felt “strongly” that direct aid was necessary for the state as well as local communities that are experiencing budget shortfalls and was working with lawmakers from both parties on a bill to address the issue.
“We’re seeing towns and cities in our state, preparing their budgets, cutting jobs, realizing that firefighters, police officers and school teachers are on the line,” she said. “We just can’t let that happen.”
Earlier this month, Collins signed onto a $500 billion proposal that would provide Maine with at least $2 billion for the state and municipalities to make up for budget shortfalls due to the coronavirus outbreak. It would also free up some funds that the state received through a previous stimulus package.
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The bill was introduced with bipartisan support May 18. Senators are currently home for a work period and will resume session in Washington June 1. Collins said Wednesday that she had been involved in Zoom meetings with members of the centrist No Labels caucus to “hammer out” details of the bill.
Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives came out with their own plan for $900 billion in aid for state and local governments, which passed the House May 15 as part of a $3 trillion spending bill but did not garner support from Republicans in the Senate.
Some Republicans balked at the idea of another stimulus package altogether, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, initially proposing that states be allowed to go bankrupt, a statement he later walked back. McConnell said Tuesday that he expects another stimulus bill.
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But there is less sense of urgency now compared to earlier in the outbreak, when Collins gave an impassioned floor speech urging her colleagues not to delay on the stimulus bill that included the Paycheck Protection Program.
Without federal aid, the decline in tax revenue is already hitting Maine, both at the state and local levels. The state collected only half of previously anticipated revenue in April, while a forecast by the financial firm Moody’s suggested that Maine’s state government could see a shock of more than $1 billion due to the virus by mid-2021.
The city of Portland saw its non-property tax revenue come in at 70 percent less than normal levels in April, while Augusta announced at the end of April that it would be laying off more than two dozen city employees.
BDN writer Eesha Pendharkar contributed to this report.
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