MAINE, Maine — On Tuesday, Sen. Joseph Baldacci, D-Bangor, introduced legislation to address staffing shortages in public safety jobs.
The bill, LD 1785, seeks to address the shortages through economic incentives, was presented to the Committee on Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement, and Business.
“I have heard from public safety workers and local and county leaders across the state about how difficult it can be to attract and retain employees for these jobs, even before the pandemic entered our lives,” Baldacci said. “With the added strain that COVID has placed on this sector, it’s past time we take action to help. I am confident that the financial incentives within this bill will do well to turn the tides on this workforce shortage. Our state, especially our rural, harder-to-reach communities, relies heavily on these jobs in times of emergency. It is critical that we take action as soon as possible.”
If passed, the law would allocate $5 million for a fund to provide student loan forgiveness. It would be administered by the Finance Authority of Maine.
Law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical services staff, dispatchers, and public health workers, would all qualify.
The bill also proposes allocating $5 million to provide those same employees with interest-free home mortgages while serving in those positions.
Baldacci said that money should come from the state’s projected revenue surplus and federal dollars that have not yet been allocated.
“This is primarily focused on younger people; keeping younger people there, having them make a commitment to these professions will be a huge benefit to all of us. And the two major economic issues for most younger families are student loans and getting a mortgage, so we need to help them because they are helping us,” added Baldacci.
“The inability to recruit and retain first responders is creating an unsafe and unhealthy work environment under already hazardous conditions by being forced to work short-staffed, unhealthy amounts of overtime to accommodate these shortages,” Gerry Gay, vice president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Maine, said. “Creating a fund that would provide student loan forgiveness and interest-free home mortgages ... would go a long way in helping us address these critical staffing shortages throughout Maine’s public safety industry.”
Chief Chris Greeley from the Holden Police Department said the lack of officers is something most, if not every, police force in Maine is facing.
“We are seeing in Maine departments offering $20,000 in bonuses like it’s a major league sports franchise or something to keep cops," he said. "We never would have seen this 10 or 20 years ago.”
“This bill appears to be a step in the direction of getting good people and keeping them,” Greeley said.