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February 4, 2021

By Lily Bohlke of Public News Service

AUGUSTA, Maine — As negotiations over a COVID-19 relief package continue in Washington, advocates for struggling Mainers say Congress can’t afford to wait.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, along with a group of GOP senators, made a $618 billion counterproposal to President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, and claimed what Biden proposed isn’t needed so soon after the December stimulus bill.

But a new Quinnipiac poll found 68 percent of Americans support the Biden plan, with just 24 percent opposed.

Mario Moretto, communications director for the Maine Center for Economic Policy, said people still are experiencing really elevated levels of hardship.

“What Mainers need now more than anything is for Congress to act and act quickly,” Moretto asserted. “To act boldly, to not only relieve that hardship, but to build some foundation to have a strong and equitable recovery.”

Moretto pointed to data which show job growth in Maine slowing down, as well as more than 40,000 residents collecting unemployment.

Nearly 30 percent of Maine adults are having trouble paying household expenses, nearly 20 percent are behind on rent or housing costs and 6 percent live in food-insecure households.

Moretto called the December stimulus “a critical down payment,” but said there are still key gaps that will require a big investment.

He contended Collins’ proposal is lacking in a number of ways, from lower unemployment insurance benefits to no increase in the minimum wage and no expansion of low-income tax-credits, which he noted have been shown to have a positive impact on reducing poverty.

“It doesn’t include rental assistance for families that are struggling to keep their homes,” Moretto emphasized. “It doesn’t provide paid family and medical leave for people who may need to take time off of work because of the virus.”

Moretto maintained even on issues with bipartisan agreement, such as the need to provide more funding for schools, the GOP offer is too low.

He urged members of Congress to pass the president’s proposal as quickly as possible.

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