Low-income Mainers are some of the most vulnerable residents in our state. Meager earnings from low-wage jobs often leave families struggling to put food on the table, pay bills, and cover other basic living expenses. For thousands of working Mainers, these financial strains have only worsened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising inflation.

Thankfully, our leaders in Augusta are working hard to ease this burden. As part of the state’s $1.2 billion budget passed last week, Maine has expanded the Earned Income Tax Credit to support our working families.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is an anti-poverty tax policy that reduces the taxes owed by low and moderate-income families. It provides eligible filers with a refundable tax credit, increasing their access to housing, childcare, food, and other necessities. This year’s budget puts aside $27.6 million to boost that credit, increasing the maximum benefit by an average of $400 per family for a total average benefit of $764 a year.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that over 97,000 low and moderate income Mainers claimed the federal EITC in 2019, receiving an average credit worth more than $2,000. By expanding Maine’s EITC, lawmakers are lifting more families out of poverty and boosting the local economy in the process.

As things stand, most Mainers are set to receive $850 checks as early as June 2022 as part of the recovery effort. But by additionally expanding the EITC, lawmakers are taking a more targeted approach to solving some of the biggest challenges facing low and midde income families.

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We recently told you that Mainers can expect some relief from high energy costs from LD 1913, legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli that was signed into law on April 18th. Now, Maine’s small businesses can also hope to receive aid for their electricity needs.

Senate President Troy Jackson introduced LD 2010, “Resolve, To Help Certain Businesses with Electricity Costs,” to meet the rising costs of electricity for small businesses across the state. The bill would make tiered credit up to $3,000 available to offset massive increases in the standard offer for electricity, which nearly doubled this year. Businesses that are considered “medium-general service” under the standard offer and have seen a significant increase in their electric bill are eligible to receive this credit, to be paid out by the end of October at the latest from the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).

We’re happy to report that this bill was passed by both the House and the Senate on April 19th and is expected to be signed by Governor Mills in the very near future. Mainers for Working Families applauds Senator Jackson and the Maine Legislature for taking this important step to help Maine’s small businesses thrive in these challenging times.

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As inflation rises, it’s getting harder to meet some of our basic needs. Trips to the grocery store are breaking the bank. Home heating costs are out of control. Gas prices are at their highest since the 2008 recession. And the cost of electric power is skyrocketing in response to ongoing supply issues with natural gas, exacerbated by the ongoing war in Ukraine. Many have seen their monthly energy bills jump by hundreds of dollars.

When it comes to electricity, however, Mainers will soon receive a helping hand.

LD 1913, “An Act To Review Strategies for Improving Utility Rate Affordability and To Provide Utility Relief,” directs the Public Utilities Commission to create a relief program to help seniors and other struggling Mainers pay for their energy bills, including bills from this past winter, and any late fees that might have accrued. To ensure that these relief funds work for as long as possible, the Public Utilities Commission will establish, alongside Efficiency Maine, an education program regarding energy-efficient upgrades and applying for other financial relief programs. The bill also directs the Public Advocate to create a commission of stakeholders to review utility rates and come up with a plan to ensure that Maine people will be able to afford their energy bills as the state modernizes its electric grid and moves toward energy independence.

“Many Mainers saw their electric bills nearly double this winter, hitting working and retired Mainers, their families and small businesses hard,” said Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, who introduced the bill in January. “This bill is designed to give Mainers a louder voice in the conversation about energy rates to make sure we’re considering any and all options that help people keep the lights on.”

We’re happy to report that LD 1913 was signed into law by Governor Mills yesterday. Because it’s an emergency measure, it will go into effect immediately. Mainers for Working Families thanks Senator Vitelli, the Maine Legislature, and Governor Mills for taking this important action to keep electricity affordable for all Mainers. Times may be tough, but with our leaders in Augusta taking action to lighten the load, we will come out of this period stronger than ever.

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