Governor Mills offers $450 relief checks under heating assistance program

Governor Mills offers $450 relief checks under heating assistance program

Governor Janet Mills on Tuesday unveiled a $474 million winter emergency energy relief plan that would include $450 checks for eligible Mainers and provide funds to top up home heating assistance, emergency fuel and short-term emergency housing to prevent homelessness.

The short-term package of measures, which requires the support of two-thirds of lawmakers to take effect this winter, aims to ensure that low-income and middle-class individuals and families in Maine can stay warm this winter. despite near-record energy. price, Mills said.

“Inflation and high energy prices are stretching Maineans’ wallets, in some cases forcing them to face the impossible choice of heating their homes, putting food on the table, or paying other necessities,” Mills said. “With this plan, we hope to ease the burden on the people of Maine by putting money back in their pockets so they can better meet these costs and ensuring that our most vulnerable citizens can stay warm this winter.

Maine’s political leaders spent Tuesday trying to broker a bipartisan deal with support from both sides of the political aisle, but talks broke down after Republicans asked for time to hold a hearing on the $447 million proposal. dollars and get more information on how it would be funded.

“We want to do it, but we want to do it right,” said Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford. “That doesn’t mean we can’t do it quickly, that we can’t do it before winter. I think we should hold a public hearing. That’s a lot of money and we should know where it comes from.

Some Republican caucus members in the House and Senate have also raised concerns about the $15 million included in the Maine State Housing Authority’s plan to cover short-term emergency housing needs this winter, including including extending hotel stays for those already homeless.

Mills and legislative leaders from both parties had hoped to have emergency legislation on the issue ready for a vote on Wednesday, when the 131st Legislature is sworn in. Emergency bills, once signed by Mills, are effective immediately, so help could be available for the winter.

But the enactment of an emergency bill requires the approval of two-thirds of the legislature. Democrats hold 23 seats in the Senate, meaning they would need a Republican vote in that chamber to secure a two-thirds majority. Democrats control 82 seats in the House; they would need at least 19 more votes there.

Mills and his team are negotiating with the four legislative leaders: Senate Speaker Troy Jackson, D-Allagash; Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle; House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland; and House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor.

Any package that passes with less than two-thirds support would not take effect until 90 days after the legislative session, meaning aid would not be delivered until this summer or fall.

Republicans and Democrats say these negotiations will likely set the tone for the next two years.

Economic issues, particularly inflation and the high cost of home heating oil, were the top political issues for Maine voters during the last campaign cycle. Both sides embraced the idea of ​​another round of state aid.

Last week, the Mills administration launched a $447 million plan that would have included an additional round of $450 taxpayer checks, home heating assistance and emergency housing funds. But the plan is subject to change as negotiations continue.

Under the plan, individuals earning up to $75,000 a year would receive a check for $450, and married couples earning up to $150,000 jointly would receive a check for $900. The Maine State Housing Authority would receive $65 million to provide home energy assistance.

At the request of Republicans, Mills raised the eligibility thresholds for those who receive checks to $100,000 if they are single or married and deposit separately; $150,000 if filing as head of household; and $200,000 for couples filing jointly.

“This approach builds on our nation-leading inflation-fighting measure, incorporates feedback from Republicans, and represents the most direct way to help Maine residents as we work to reduce energy costs. long-term,” Mills said Tuesday. “I ask the Legislature to pass this plan with the 2/3 support needed to enact it as an emergency measure so that we can get this relief into the hands of the people of Maine without delay.”

He also asked for $15 million to support emergency housing and emergency shelters during the winter. This funding is intended to help fill the void that is expected to remain when federal housing assistance ends in the coming weeks.

Officials are looking to tap into a projected $283 million surplus projected for the current fiscal year, but that’s not enough to cover the costs of the draft proposal. It’s unclear how they would tell the difference.

This story will be updated.

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