Maine governor signs heating aid package before inauguration
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — The Maine Legislature cleared the way Wednesday for $450 relief checks for residents struggling with high winter heating costs — the main component of a $473 million assistance package enacted on Wednesday.
Both chambers acted swiftly to approve the bill before decamping to the Augusta Civic Center for the inauguration of Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who’s being sworn in to office for a second term.
Mills wasted no time signing it into law.
“With high energy prices causing real hardship, this emergency measure will ease the financial burden on Maine people by putting money back into their pockets and ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are able to stay warm this winter,” Mills said.
The heating assistance bill was an early test of bipartisanship, with Senate Republicans delaying passage to ensure a public hearing was held.
Leaders of both Democratically controlled chambers quickly assembled a temporary appropriations committee to hear public testimony two weeks ago before unanimously endorsing the bill.
Republicans praised the public hearing, but some of them continued to express opposition on Wednesday.
Sen. Matt Pouliot, of Augusta, called the committee session a “dog and pony show,” and Sen. Jim Libby, of Cumberland, called the bill “haphazard.” Sen. Rick Bennett, of Oxford, worried about “spending our cupboards bare” and said the bill “could be, and should be better.” Bennett ultimately voted for the bill.
Others said the bill was the fastest way to get help to those struggling with inflation and high energy bills. Both chambers passed the bill with a two-thirds majority to be enacted as emergency legislation, allowing the state to begin mailing the checks in a matter of weeks.
“Maine people needed immediate help with heating and housing assistance and with this bill, we delivered. Direct financial relief will be in Mainers’ mailboxes by the end of the month.” House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross said in a statement.
The package calls for nearly $400 million to be used to provide $450 payments to an estimated 880,000 residents. It provides an additional $40 million to bolster the federal heating assistance program that’s administered through community action partnerships.
It also includes $10 million for emergency fuel assistance and $21 million to bolster an emergency relief housing fund to help people experiencing homelessness.
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