Maine winter energy costs relief plan to be unveiled this week

Gov. Janet Mills in talks with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders
heating oil prices on the rise
heating oil prices on the rise(WABI)
Published: Dec. 2, 2022 at 6:12 PM EST
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(WMTW) - Maine residents will have to wait a little longer to learn of the plan from Gov. Janet Mills to help them stay warm and pay their energy bills this winter.

The Mills administration was still negotiating on Friday with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders on a bipartisan relief plan.

The goal is having a deal in place by Wednesday, when the new state legislative session begins, and all 186 legislators are sworn in.

Her administration is looking at ways to provide more funding for home heating oil and electricity bills, such as emergency fuel assistance and or expanding eligibility for HEAP, the Home Energy Assistance Program, which low-income residents can apply for on the Maine Housing website.

The money for the financial relief will be drawn from a newly projected $282 million revenue surplus through the current fiscal year ending next June.

It is unclear if tax rebate checks, like the $850 “inflation relief” checks issued to 92% of Maine taxpayers earlier this year, drawn from the past fiscal year’s revenue surplus, will be part of the new package, and if so, how much they will be.

Mills said in a written statement Friday afternoon: “My office has had productive conversations with Democratic and Republican legislative leadership this week, and I am optimistic that we are close to finalizing a bipartisan agreement for an emergency winter energy relief plan. Those conversations will continue this weekend, and I look forward to unveiling the proposal early next week.”

Republican leaders like House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham said they were pressing to see eligibility for aid programs expanded to cover more middle-income earners.

Republican Sen. Jeff Timberlake, who just stepped down as Senate Minority Leader but delivered this week’s Republican Radio Address, said, “We can at least remove the sales tax on heating oil to businesses.”

Sixty percent of Maine homes rely on heating oil, while eight percent rely on natural gas.

Even though there are Democratic majorities in both the Maine House and Senate, Mills is aiming for a bipartisan bill to achieve a two-thirds majority to make the plan an emergency expenditure that can go out right away, instead of the usual 90 days.

“It’s exciting,” one legislator said on Friday. “We’re going to help a lot of people.”