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Maine lawmakers reach budget deal, including relief checks

The budget includes $850 relief checks to more than 850,000 Mainers.
The budget includes $850 relief checks to more than 850,000 Mainers.(WABI)
Published: Apr. 15, 2022 at 8:02 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WMTW) - State lawmakers worked until the early hours of Friday morning to reach a supplemental budget agreement on how to use a state revenue surplus.

The legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee unanimously approved a supplemental budget proposal that will now go to the full legislature.

The chairs of the committee released statements after the deal was reached.

“This proposal delivers direct inflation relief and ongoing tax relief for retirees while also investing in education, property tax relief, workforce training, health care and long-term care. It also takes historic steps to help farmers address the PFAS crisis, which is long overdue. This is what Maine people expect from their government — collaboration and commonsense,” said Sen. Cathy Breen.

“Our shared goal was to ensure direct relief will get to Maine people quickly and critical investments are made in Maine families to thrive, including through support the direct care workforce and child care workforce. We wanted to be sure the big issues facing Mainers right now, including PFAS and the need for housing and behavioral health care are addressed immediately. This funding will be deployed for property tax relief and protecting Maine children as well as student debt relief. We found common ground on every item in this budget,” said Rep. Teresa Pierce.

The budget includes $850 relief checks to more than 850,000 Mainers. To get the check, you must be a full-time resident of the state and file a 2021 Maine income tax return by Oct. 31, 2022. Mainers will qualify if they: make up to $100,000 if filing single or if married and filing separately; make up to $150,000 if filing as head of household; or make up to $200,000 for couples filing jointly.

According to the office of the presiding officers of the Maine Legislature, other highlights of the supplemental budget include:

Support for older Mainers

  • Ongoing income tax relief for retired Mainers
  • Fixes to issues with public employee pensions
  • Funds the Maine Veterans’ Homes in Caribou and Machias to keep them open
  • Invests in nursing homes, residential care facilities and other providers so those in need of long-term care can get the care they need close to home.
  • Supports cost-of-living adjustments and increased rates to support wages of at least 125% for direct care workers in long-term care.
  • Invests $25 million in Maine’s hospitals to keep these facilities open.
  • Reduces the waitlist for in-home and community support services for older Mainers and other adults.

Tax relief

The supplemental budget permanently expands the property tax fairness credit to give eligible working families and older Mainer relief on property tax or rent. The maximum benefit is $1,000 each year for those under 65 and $1,500 for those over 65.

It also increases the earned income tax credit to help 100,000 Maine families.

Addressing PFAS

  • Establishes a trust to address PFAS contamination, including compensation to help relocate farm businesses when remediation is not possible, monitor health and support new research and removal.
  • Takes steps to help private labs build PFAS testing capacity.
  • Provides funding to abate, clean up and mitigate threats or hazards posed by PFAS.

Working waterfront

The supplemental budget provides funds to help Maine’s lobstering industry weather threats from the federal government.

Workforce training and education

  • Creates the Education Rainy Day Fund to ensure the state continues to meet its obligation to fund public K-12 education at 55 percent as mandated by the voters in 2004.
  • Invests in career and technical education to make sure programs have the materials and equipment needed to train students so they can fill gaps in the workforce,
  • Supports Jobs for Maine Graduates (JMG) programs in middle and high schools.
  • Continues funding for universal school meals to ensure Maine students can continue to access healthy school meals at no cost.

Higher Education

  • The supplemental budget provides up to two years of free community college for all students from the high school graduating classes of 2020 through 2023 who enroll in a Maine community college full-time.
  • The supplemental budget freezes tuition for Maine residents pursuing a four-year degree so they can complete their program and enter the workforce.
  • The supplemental budget increases the maximum annual individual benefit from $2,000 to $2,500, up to a $25,000 lifetime benefit.

Family and children support

  • Helps child care providers recruit and retain workers.
  • Improves eligibility for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, otherwise known as CHIP.
  • Funds an actuarial study to determine the feasibility of Paid Family Medical Leave.
  • Provides one-time funding to support the purchase of a more effective and reliable child lead case management system for the lead poisoning prevention program.
  • Rebuilds Maine’s oral health care program so children can access dental care during elementary school, making Maine eligible for federal matching funds.

Housing access

The budget funds emergency housing relief and creates the Housing Opportunity Fund to provide towns support in expanding housing supply.

The deal also keeps the Budget Stabilization Fund, otherwise known as the Rainy Day Fund, at $492 million, the highest it has been in Maine history.

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