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QUOTE OF THE DAY: “You can’t rip the heart and soul out of an institution and still call it Unity College,” Kathleen Dunckel, a laid-off Unity College professor, said of the college going completely online. “We’ve hollowed it out. They should call it the school formerly known as Unity College.”
What we’re watching today
The president signed several major policy changes this weekend, but it is not clear if they are legal or doable in Maine and other states. President Donald Trump announced a series of executive actions this weekend after Congress failed to reach an agreement on another coronavirus-related stimulus bill again last week. The changes include deferring payroll tax collection through the end of the year and allowing states to pay more in unemployment insurance benefits through a program from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The orders may be at least partially unconstitutional, because Congress has the power to control taxes and spending. New provisions would also pass the buck to states that are weathering budget crises and are asking for more flexibility to use federal aid or more aid in general.
Take the additional unemployment benefits as an example. A Trump memorandum requires states to contribute an additional $100 per week in supplemental unemployment insurance, which would then be matched by $300 in FEMA funding. Based on the most recent unemployment numbers, the state contribution could cost Maine $8 million weekly — if the state is able to pay immediately while implementing an austerity plan.
But given the well-documented struggles of unemployment programs in Maine and across the country, the additional payments could take time for the state’s labor department to implement even in a best-case scenario. (There have been few best-case scenarios in the pandemic.)
Some are hoping that the president’s actions will speed up negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, noted there are “constitutional limits on what the President can do to help through executive orders” while taking the opportunity to again criticize Democrats for failing to agree to a temporary deal on unemployment benefits and citing the need for broad-based aid to businesses and governments.
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, was critical of the orders on Sunday, calling them the “latest unserious approach to a deadly serious problem” and citing the issue of executive overreach. House Democrats passed their own virus aid bill back in May, but have not reached an agreement with Senate Republicans or the White House over the next bill.
Meanwhile, more Maine workers will be looking for jobs again this week. The state is reinstating the work search requirement for receiving unemployment benefits this week. Previously, unemployed workers receiving benefits did not have to actively apply to jobs, though they still could lose benefits if they were offered a job and turned it down.
Workers who are not connected to an employer will be required to apply to jobs this week. That does not mean work will be easy to come by. As of Monday, there were 9,354 jobs listed on the state’s official Job Link website, compared to nearly 80,000 Mainers on unemployment.
The Maine politics top 3
— Bath Iron Works and union reach tentative deal to end strike in Maine,” The Associated Press: “The strike came against the backdrop of a global pandemic in which workers lost their company-paid insurance and an election year in which some politicians sought to get involved on behalf of workers.”
— “Out-of-staters are spending big in Maine’s Senate race,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “Out-of-state money has been a line of attack from both sides of the aisle. While it is taking an outsized role in this election, it is in line with other heavily nationalized Senate races to date as Democrats look to take back the Senate, a mission that looked uphill a few months ago but looks more attainable now as the list of close-polling states has increased.”
The first debate of the Senate race is scheduled, but the party candidates are still sparring about how many they should have. All four candidates — Collins, House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and independents Lisa Savage and Max Linn will meet at 7 p.m. on Sept. 11 for a debate hosted by the Bangor Daily News, the Portland Press Herald and News Center Maine, which will air the event nearly statewide on TV and on streaming platforms.
Collins and Gideon, however, are still in a tiff over the number of debates. After winning her July primary, Gideon challenged Collins to five, then the incumbent said she wanted 16 starting immediately. On Friday, Gideon said her request for five still stands. It looks like our debate will be the first of the race, though the real number will come down to media organizations.
— “A Maine tribe worries about its water as it faces sovereignty fight and pandemic,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “There have been few coronavirus cases in eastern Maine, but the water quality is adding to concerns in a population with many who have pre-existing health conditions as Maine tribes pursue a sovereignty effort before the Legislature.”
There are no official events scheduled in the Legislature until month’s end as lawmakers are down to the last minute if they want to reconvene. It looks like the Legislature’s last move for a while was the Judiciary Committee’s Friday endorsement of the tribes’ sweeping sovereignty effort. Republicans have turned back two Democratic bids to reconvene as they seek a pared-back coronavirus pandemic agenda. They are going to have to cut a deal soon if there is any hope that they will return this month, which seems unlikely at best.
Maine could provide plan to increase voting accessibility
The state could soon provide a plan to increase voting accessibility for people with visual impairments after being sued over it. A federal judge told Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap and voters represented by Disability Rights Maine that they needed to either have an update on how to settle the case or provide a timeline for a settlement by today after a post-primary lawsuit from advocates and Mainers with visual impairments. With less than three months to go before the November election — and ballots due to be printed by the end of the month — the state is sure to be looking for a quick way to resolve the case.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email email@example.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.