Good morning from Augusta. We are holding a listening session for politics readers on July 29. Register here.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It was unbelievable, the amount of people that were searching for him. It just warmed my heart,” said Ellen Trask of Presque Isle, whose dog was tracked down with the help of social media after initially being stolen along with her husband’s truck. “A lot of people have posted in various places about this whole thing and said ‘people are so bad and it’s terrible.’ But I’ll tell you right now, it just shows me how good people generally are.”
What we’re watching today
The prolonged closure of the U.S.-Canadian border has created a mismatch in access and clearly frustrated Maine politicians. The news that Canada would soon start allowing vaccinated U.S. citizens to cross the border was dampened when the U.S. government announced that access would be one-way for at least two more weeks after Canada reopens its border on Aug. 9.
The news provoked criticism from political leaders across the Northeast.
The Department of Homeland Security cited the rising number of cases of the delta variant, which now accounts for the majority of new COVID-19 cases.
But Maine’s political leaders were not buying that argument Wednesday night. Gov. Janet Mills and Maine’s federal delegation slammed the decision, saying it would hurt local economies and continue to challenge families separated by the border. All four members of the state’s congressional delegation wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas saying the government should work to develop policies allowing the crossings to happen, while Mills questioned the health aspect of the continued closure.
“I share the Federal government’s concern about the spread of COVID-19, but vaccines are now available and Canada’s vaccination rate now exceeds that of the United States,” Mills said in a statement. “The time has come for the U.S. government to safely open the border.”
Despite indications that Maine’s economy is recovering from its initial pandemic walloping, the lack of Canadian tourists has been a struggle for Maine’s northern tourism sector. The Moody’s Analytics and CNN Business “Back to Normal Index” estimates Maine’s economy has rebounded to 96 percent of its activity prior to the pandemic. The U.S. Travel Association industry group estimates that each month of continued closure costs the U.S. economy $1.5 billion.
And while the Canadian vaccination rate may have crept past that of the U.S., it took awhile to get there and its growth is predicted to peter out soon. About 52 percent of Canadians are now fully vaccinated compared to 49 percent of Americans. Canada’s vaccination rate is still lower than Maine’s rate, as just shy of 63 percent of Mainers are fully vaccinated, according to the latest federal data.
Canada has reported a daily COVID-19 case rate of about one infection per 100,000 people over the past week, according to the New York Times. The two provinces that share a border with Maine, Quebec and New Brunswick, have rates slightly lower than that. By contrast, Maine’s daily average case rate over the past week is about four cases per 100,000 people, while the U.S. rate is about 12 cases per 100,000 people.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Emails show DHHS initially resisted releasing files on children’s deaths to Maine’s child welfare watchdog,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “The state has since agreed to cooperate with [Child Welfare Ombudsman Christine] Alberi, but the initial reluctance to provide information highlights the frustration Alberi, lawmakers and others have voiced recently as the state looks for answers to how a spate of young children’s deaths last month occurred. Two members of the ombudsman’s board of directors resigned recently, speaking out about what they characterized as the Department of Health and Human Services’ resistance to external review and the ombudsman’s findings in past investigations and reports.”
— “Maine’s congressional delegation wants earmarks to fund 150 local projects. See what your town might get.” Jessica Piper, BDN: “Officially known as congressionally directed spending items, earmarks allow lawmakers to ask for money for specific projects within their state or district, such as funding for road and bridge repairs, substance use treatment programs, water infrastructure upgrades and land purchases. Not all of the earmarks proposed by members of Maine’s congressional delegation will ultimately get funding, but they provide some insight into lawmakers’ priorities.”
— “Maine hospitals boost wages to attract workers in ‘fiercely’ competitive labor market,” Patty Wight, Maine Public: “Workforce challenges aren’t new to health care, but they’ve been exacerbated by the pandemic. Some people are reticent to work in health care, [MaineHealth CEO Andrew] Mueller said, and some employees have left because they’re burnt out. The number of job openings at MaineHealth typically fluctuates, but for the past several months, it has consistently stayed above 2,000.”
Pandemic aid for loggers opens applications
A $200 million program to assist loggers that passed as part of a December COVID-19 relief bill is now taking applications. Many lumber businesses cut production last year as they faced COVID-19 restrictions and anticipated decreased demand due to economic struggles. That made it difficult for them to take advantage of soaring lumber prices this spring.
The Pandemic Assistance for Timber Harvesters and Haulers Program, based on legislation sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Jared Golden, offers assistance to loggers and log-hauling businesses that experienced at least a 10 percent loss in revenue in 2020 compared to the year prior. Applications open today. Here’s your soundtrack.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews. 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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