AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Legislature approved $450 relief checks for residents struggling with high winter heating costs, the main component of a $474 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.
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.
Some Republicans 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.” But Bennett voted for the bill.
After the governor signs the bill, the state expects to begin mailing out the first of the relief checks before the end of the month.
The package called 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.