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Mills launches $200M grant program to support Maine small businesses

The program will provide financial relief for businesses and non-profit organizations that incurred business disruptions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Credit: AP
Maine Gov. Janet Mills speaks at a news conference where she announced new plans for the stay-at-home order and other measures to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Augusta, Maine.(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

AUGUSTA, Maine — On Thursday Gov. Janet Mills announced the Maine Economic Recovery Grant Program to support Maine businesses and nonprofits as they continue to grapple with economic hardships caused by COVID-19.

The program, backed by $200 million in Federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF), will provide financial relief for businesses and non-profit organizations that incurred business disruptions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Mills administration says the grants are intended to help sustain the viability of Maine’s small businesses and nonprofits - not to replace lost profits - and will provide short-term relief to help stabilize Maine’s economy while still focusing on the state’s long-term goals described in the state’s 10-year strategic economic development plan. The program draws on a recommendation from the Governor’s Economic Recovery Committee.

“Small businesses across Maine - the neighborhood corner store, the bed and breakfast, the independent bookstore - have faced unprecedented challenges caused by this pandemic, from the heartbreak of temporarily closing their doors to the herculean task of reopening in new and innovative ways. Many have risen to the task, but with the global economy still reeling from the virus, and with people still wary of how and where to eat and shop, it is crucial that we provide what help we can to get businesses through,” Mills said in a statement. “My Administration will do all we can to support Maine’s small businesses through these difficult times. While we know these grants cannot wholly replace or repair the economic damage this pandemic has caused, our mission is to ensure that each dollar has at least a small, direct impact on supporting these businesses and Maine’s economy. We continue to hope that Congress will step up to provide greater relief to the people and State of Maine.”

In addition to the threat to public health, the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the global business environment, causing severe supply-chain disruptions, reduced consumer spending, and unprecedented losses that are felt across all sectors. U.S. industries are no exception, with hospitality, tourism, retail, restaurants and bars, entertainment, manufacturing and countless others facing a host of new challenges and barriers that disrupt operations and impede growth. 

Here in Maine, the closure of the Canadian border, the stoppage of cruise ships, and the reluctance of people to travel have impacted the economy, from agriculture to fisheries, to retail, recreation, and hospitality sectors.

In order to qualify for a grant, a business or nonprofit must demonstrate a need for financial relief based on lost revenues minus expenses incurred since March 1, 2020 due to COVID-19 impacts or related public health response. 

The business or organization must also: 

  1. have significant operations in Maine, meaning it is headquartered in the state or has a minimum of half its employees in Maine
  2. employ less than a combined total of 50 employees and contract employees
  3. have been in operation for at least one year before August 1, 2020; not currently be in bankruptcy and not permanently have ceased operations
  4. be current and in good standing with all Maine State payroll taxes, sales taxes, and state income taxes through July 31, 2020 and be in good standing with the Maine Department of Labor
  5. be in consistent compliance and not subject to any enforcement action with COVID-19 Prevention Checklist requirements.

Mills discussed the program in the Maine CDC coronavirus briefing Thursday with Maind DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew and Maine Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Heather Johnson. 

Watch the briefing here:

Grants may be used to cover expenses, including but not limited to: payroll costs and expenses; rent or mortgage payments for business facilities; utilities payments; necessary operating expenses; expenses incurred to replenish inventory or other necessary re-opening expenses; purchase of personal protective equipment required by the business or business-related equipment. 

Funds must be spent on operations that are strictly within Maine. Recipients are liable for any misuse of funds, and the grants are subject to audit.

In order to avoid a competitive rush for awards, the grants will not be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Instead, businesses and nonprofit organizations can apply for a grant beginning Friday, August 21, 2020 through September 9, 2020 with awards made in early October. 

The amount awarded will be based on demonstrated need as a pro-rated percentage of the total cost of business interruption reported by qualified applicants.

The Mills administration will distribute grant awards through Economic Development Districts (EDD) in order to meet allocation criteria established by the U.S. Treasury Department. The Administration is providing up to $3 million in CRF monies to support EDDs as they administer the program. The Administration has also briefed the Chairs and Leads of the Legislature’s Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs on the use of the CRF monies. With today’s commitment, the State of Maine has committed $807 million of Maine’s $1.25 billion in Federal CARES Act CRF monies. To see the full commitment of funds, click HERE.

The Administration considers the $200 million an initial investment with the potential for additional funding in the future depending on additional support from the Federal government, for which Governor Mills continues to advocate.