Maine senators “optimistic” coronavirus relief package will pass this week

Published: Dec. 16, 2020 at 7:06 AM EST
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WASHINGTON, (WABI) - Maine’s U.S. senators are optimistic the bipartisan, bicameral coronavirus aid package they are co-sponsoring will pass Congress this week.

In separate interviews from the nation’s capital on Tuesday, Republican Susan Collins and Independent Angus King said there is strong support for a $748 billion package, which would allocate emergency aid for small business loans, unemployment benefits, health care providers, schools, transportation, and rental assistance.

Collins said, “I feel very strongly that the urgent need will compel passage, and that we should not break for Christmas until we have done this important work.”

King called the bill “a compromise agreement of three-quarters of a trillion dollars to provide immediate aid, within a matter of weeks if not days, to help us through this very tough period.”

An additional $160 billion for state and local governments has been severed from the original $908 billion blueprint unveiled two weeks ago into a separate bill and is now contingent on protecting businesses from virus-related lawsuits.

“That’s the key to unlocking state and local aid. If we can get state and local aid by itself, I’m all in,” King said. “This should have been done months ago.”

Earlier in the year, King and other legislators had proposed $500 billion in such aid.

Collins said, “I’m particularly concerned about municipalities because so many of them are on the verge of laying off police officers, firefighters, sanitation crews, public works employees --they provide essential services, and I don’t want them to lose their jobs.”

Maine Gov. Janet Mills announced last week her administration had allocated all $1.25 billion of previously received federal coronavirus aid funds.

With a coronavirus-related extension of unemployment benefits set to expire Dec. 26 for as many as 30,000 Mainers and 12 million Americans, the bill offers another 16 weeks of compensation with a $300 weekly federal supplement, or half the $600 boost in effect from the start of the pandemic economic downturn through July 31.

The biggest items in the bill are:

  • Extending unemployment assistance for 16 weeks, with a $300 supplemental weekly benefit.
  • $300 billion for third round of forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses.
  • $82 billion for K-12 schools and colleges.
  • $45 billion for airlines, airports, buses, Amtrak, and public transit.
  • $35 billion for health care providers.
  • $25 billion in rental assistance, along with an eviction moratorium through January.
  • $16 billion for coronavirus testing and vaccine distribution.
  • $13 billion for emergency food assistance through SNAP and food pantries.
  • $13 billion for farmers, ranchers, growers, and fisheries.

Collins and King held out hope that all $908 billion would be approved but would settle for the $748 billion.

“If we have to, we will go with what there’s widespread agreement on, but I’m continuing to fight for state and local governments to get funding,” Collins said.

King said, “In the package that’s agreed upon is a lot of money that will end up in the state” from funds for education to vaccine distribution.

At the same time, Congress is considering coronavirus aid, it faces a Friday deadline to pass an appropriations resolution to keep the federal government running and avoid a shutdown.

Collins said, “My guess is they’re all going to be rolled into one.”

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