On July 19, the Legislature met for a final time this session to allocate the nearly $1 billion in federal funds sent to our state as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, also known as ARPA. These final discretionary funds were in addition to other, targeted aid that our state, our counties, our cities and our towns received to help them recover from the pandemic. Distributing these funds was a big responsibility, but it was a great opportunity to help make much needed investments in our people and our economy. In addition to investing in affordable housing, Maine’s heritage industries, access to health care and expansion of high-speed internet, the Legislature used much of this funding to help support Maine workers and small businesses. I’m happy to share some information about these critical investments with you here.
Maine’s small businesses were hit hard during the pandemic, and though there were many state and federal grant programs to help, many businesses still need assistance. That’s why the Legislature allocated $20 million for economic recovery grants for Maine businesses, targeting businesses that may not have been eligible for previous grants. To make sure businesses aren’t paying the price for the economic downturn that led to high unemployment rates, we’re putting $80 million into the Unemployment Trust Fund so businesses don’t see a rate increase. Finally, we directed funding to support entrepreneurship and new business ventures by investing in research and development grants, offering technical assistance, and cutting down on red tape.
Direct aid to businesses is necessary, but we also need to be strengthening our workforce so that businesses can hire trained, talented workers and so workers can get in-demand, good-paying jobs. Many of these jobs require education or training beyond high school, and we need to make sure Mainers young and old have access to that training. To help young Mainers see all the opportunities they have for a successful and prosperous future right here in Maine, the Legislature directed $20 million in ARPA funds to the Maine Career Exploration program to help educate them about these in-demand careers.
Maine’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) centers are key to training our workforce to meet the demands of our changing economy. These CTE centers, including the Lake Region Vocational Center in Naples and the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center, exist all over our state to help Maine students get the hands-on learning they need to prepare for jobs in the building trades, electrical, childcare and more. These are fields where we desperately need trained workers, and CTE centers help make sure Mainers are prepared to fill those jobs. That’s why we allocated $20 million to help update the facilities and the equipment at these centers, to make sure Mainers have access to the training they need. We also dedicated $45 million to the University of Maine and Maine Community College Systems for workforce development programs and invested in apprenticeship programs through the Maine Department of Labor.
As senate chair of the Transportation Committee, I was also pleased to invest in improving our infrastructure, including our highways and bridges. Five million dollars will go toward adaptation improvements to support public safety, emergency management and infrastructure resiliency. We also directed $2 million to fund workforce transportation pilot projects to make sure that workers, especially those in rural areas, are able to get to the employment opportunities near them. Finally, we included $3 million for more electric vehicle charging infrastructure throughout our state, which is important as more Mainers make the switch to environmentally friendly electric vehicles.
I’m proud that we were able to direct these funds in ways that I believe will make a real difference for Maine people, and that the Legislature had bipartisan agreement on the overwhelming majority of these measures. If you have any questions about ARPA funds or about any other work the Legislature did this session, please reach out with your questions. Even though the Legislature has officially adjourned for now, I’m still here to help however I can. Please don’t hesitate to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or to call my office at (207) 287-1515. <