Good morning from Augusta. There will be one more Daily Brief on Tuesday, Dec. 22, before we shut it down through the new year. Here’s your soundtrack.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “She’s tough,” said Martha Mishkind of Sedgwick, whose mother, Maria Reddaway, survived Nazi Germany as a teenager but died of coronavirus earlier this month after outbreak at a Deer Isle nursing home. “I thought if she could make it through that, she could make it through this.”
What we’re watching today
Congress finally seems poised to pass another coronavirus relief bill after months of partisan fights. A roughly $900 billion agreement that solidified over the weekend includes additional funding for small business loans, 11 more weeks of unemployment benefits and $600 stimulus checks, among other provisions. Not included are business liability protections or funding for state and local governments, though there is some funding available for schools.
The agreement came together late Saturday night after senators resolved a dispute over the extension of a lending program through the Federal Reserve. But the bill text has still yet to be released, so a few details are still murky.
News of the bill’s likely passage comes as a relief to Mainers who have been hoping for additional federal aid. About 750,000 people here are likely to be eligible for the second round of stimulus checks, which have the same income requirements as the first round.
The unemployment provisions — which extend to federal unemployment programs and provide an additional $300 weekly benefit to everyone receiving state or federal benefits — are likely to aid more than 47,000 Mainers who filed state or federal unemployment claims for the week ending Dec. 12. Unemployment claims numbers have ticked back upward over the past few weeks after dropping for much of the summer and fall.
The biggest changes are to the Paycheck Protection Program, the massive small business loan program that was revised to target loans only for hard-hit businesses and expand eligibility for nonprofits. The package also includes $15 billion in funding dedicated for live event venues and independent movie theaters.
Assuming Congress passes the bill today, the remaining question is how long it will take to get the money out. The rollout of the Paycheck Protection Program and new federal unemployment programs in April was chaotic, delaying benefits for some for months. It should be easier this time around since the programs are not entirely new.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine’s legacy as an outdoors destination could speed its economic recovery,” Lori Valigra, Bangor Daily News: “Tourism’s rise to become one of Maine’s top industries began long ago, but the reasons people flock here — clean water, fresh air and outdoor activities — have mirrored that history during the coronavirus pandemic. While tourism statewide was down more than 30 percent this year, it has recovered from the Great Depression and other calamities in the past. Some areas popular then bucked trends to see visitors increase in 2020.”
— “Pandemic leads more Mainers to work fewer hours or in less-skilled jobs,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “For workers laid off during the pandemic, accepting a part-time job can mean a lower salary as well as reduced benefits. Under the Affordable Care Act, employers are only required to offer health insurance to employees working more than 30 hours per week. Underemployed workers may qualify for subsidized health insurance under Maine’s expanded Medicaid program, but eligibility depends on several factors.”
— “Maine saw 6 signs of a warming climate throughout 2020,” Bill Trotter, BDN: “Between the severe storms, the lack of precipitation is getting more pronounced, leading to months-long droughts. After rains grew scarce this summer, drought conditions spread in Maine and eventually extended throughout the entire state. The flow of water in the Piscataquis River shrank to record low levels in September, but on Dec. 1 swelled above flood stage when the first of two storms struck Maine that week.”
Mills mum on participation in transportation pact
A multi-state agreement to cap carbon emissions from vehicles is expected to be unveiled today. A final memorandum of understanding between northeastern states on the Transportation and Climate Initiative will shape climate policy in the region for years to come. Maine has been among a dozen states participating in the initiative under Gov. Janet Mills.
But it is unknown where the Democratic governor is on it since has commented little on the subject beyond saying she would be “cautious” of how such an initiative would affect Maine, where public transit is scarce, people often commute long distances and transportation makes up 50 percent of emissions. Her office did not respond to a Friday request for comment.
Mills has made climate change a main policy priority in her administration. Beyond her silence, the ommission of the agreement from her climate council’s plan could indicate an unwillingness to get involved. The plan has faced criticism for its potential effects on gas prices, with a Tufts University study finding it could increase prices by 24 percent in 2022.
Regional support has been mixed. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a moderate Republican, has been a leader on the project, while New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu was among the earliest to back off and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has been skeptical as well.
Special Maine Senate election takes shape
Republicans nominated a Pittston businessman for a swing seat on Sunday, while a former lawmaker is set to get the Democratic nod on Tuesday. Former one-term state Rep. William Guerrette won a caucus of just over 60 Republicans on Sunday to earn the party’s nomination for a March 9 special election for the seat in southern Kennebec County vacated by incoming Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester. With 28 votes, Guerrette beat three other candidates including former Sen. Earle McCormick of West Gardiner.
Democrats are scheduled to confirm their candidate at a Tuesday caucus. It is likely to be former Rep. Craig Hickman of Winthrop, a farmer who easily won four elections in his House district. The district was held by McCormick before Bellows took it in 2016 and it flipped from supporting President Donald Trump that year to President-elect Joe Biden this year.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.
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