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Several tourism-related groups asked Gov. Janet Mills on Friday to allocate $800 million in federal funding for small businesses to keep their doors open and pay basic operating costs including rent, mortgage and payroll.
The Maine Tourism Association, HospitalityMaine and the Retail Association of Maine rolled out a multi-phase relief plan that would allot federal Emergency Action Grants to small businesses hard hit by coronavirus restrictions.
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It is proposing that the money come from the $1.25 billion federal CARES Act coronavirus funding that was disbursed to Maine and that the governor is responsible for dispensing. The group launched the plan from outside of DiMillo’s restaurant in Portland.
Tourism is the state’s biggest industry, employing nearly 150,000 Mainers. Retailers lost 12,000 jobs from February to April, while leisure and hospitality businesses lost 42,600 jobs, according to Maine Department of Labor data.
“More than half of the jobs lost in Maine have come from our industries,” Curtis Picard, CEO of the Retail Association of Maine said. He said the Maine Turnpike typically would be packed with cars headed into the state now, but it is not. “We need bold action to make sure these industries are around in 2021.”
The first phase of the plan calls for $710 million in grants for fixed-cost expenses including commercial rent, mortgage payments, utilities, enhanced safety and sanitation equipment and personal protective equipment. Of that amount, $400 million is intended for businesses with 50 or fewer current full-time employees. The group said those businesses struggled to access other federal programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan.
Hospitality, retail and tourism businesses with more than 50 full-time employees would be able to access money from a $300 million fund. Another $10 million in grants would be reserved for 501 (C) 6 tax-exempt organizations associated with the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors.
The plan also would provide $15 million for essential business counseling and technical assistance to help hotels and restaurants rebuild their businesses.
The second phase would allot $15 million to the Maine Office of Tourism to market Maine tourism aggressively. Another $50 million would go to employees to help them with rent, health care, childcare, transportation, food and utilities. The final $10 million is for reinvestment in Maine’s workforce.
“Due to the devastation the state’s restrictions are causing, this emergency funding is crucial for business survival,” said Steve Hewins, president and CEO of HospitalityMaine.
Tourism businesses, particularly those offering accommodations, have criticized the governor’s mandates for out-of-state visitors to either self-quarantine for 14 days in Maine or sign a statement that they have had a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their visit.
The curtailment of businessmen ripples down to other activities including schools, real estate, hardware stores and car dealerships, they said.
“Restarting Maine’s economy begins with restarting travel,” said Tony Cameron, CEO of the Maine Tourism Association. “This plan will help businesses survive this year so they can recover next year.”
The governor did not give the group a clear answer on funding. She welcomed the proposal and said the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee is meeting and collaborating with her administration on potential uses of the coronavirus relief funds.
“I hope they will take these proposals into consideration as well,” Mills said. She said the groups’ proposal underscores the need for Congress and the president to give more aid to states.
Watch: Who can make reservations at Maine hotels next month?