AUGUSTA, Maine — A hastily assembled legislative panel voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a proposed $474 million heating assistance package following a public hearing that was demanded by Senate Republicans.
When lawmakers reconvene in two weeks, the full Maine Legislature will vote on the proposal. It calls for $450 relief payments to 880,000 Mainers, along with additional funding to supplement a federal heating assistance program, and for emergency heating and housing assistance.
Senate Republicans rejected Gov. Janet Mills’ proposal on the opening day of the legislative session, calling for a public hearing to maintain transparency.
Senate Republican Leader Trey Stewart said there are still concerns about the proposal but said Republicans are willing to “swallow a bunch of provisions that are not favorable towards us” because they understand inflation and high heating costs have created an emergency.
Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, both Democrats, assembled a temporary appropriations committee and presided over the public hearing, which lasted more than five hours.
Lawmakers gather again on Jan. 4, when they'll vote on the proposal. If the measure is approved, the state could then begin mailing out the first of the relief checks before the end of the month.
The bill calls for nearly $400 million to be used to provide $450 payments to an estimated 880,000 residents, adding up to $900 total for an average family. It also would provide $40 million to bolster the federal heating assistance program that’s administered through community action partnerships.
It also would include $10 million for emergency fuel assistance and $21 million to bolster an emergency relief housing fund to help people experiencing homelessness.