New state budget agreement includes $300 payments to workers
AUGUSTA, Maine (WAGM) - Maine legislators announced a bipartisan budget agreement that focuses on a number of key topics.
Included in the agreement is funding for senior living facilities, 55% funding for state education, and $300 dollar hazard payments to those who worked throughout the pandemic.
The onetime payment will be based on 2020 tax returns. Individuals making $75,000 or less, or joint filers making $150,000 or less will receive the payment.
“You had to have filed a 2020 taxes to get one. Its income based, but we all felt that it would have been great to go higher because of the cost of it,” Sen. President Troy Jackson said. “Anyone that was working, making under 75 thousand dollars a year after they had their taxes filed, was deserving of some help.”
“For those that have been showing up all along, this additional payment has been a priority that we have pushed as Republicans for those folks,” Sen. Trey Stewart said. “Certainly, appreciate all of the work that they’ve done to continue to show up during all of this.”
Both Jackson and Stewart say that agreeing on the contents of this budget is necessary to getting the job done for Mainers.
“This is an opportunity that republicans jumped on to make sure that the things we care about were able to be included in this because it does require 2/3,” Sen. Stewart said. “All of these things are critical to the folks that we represent, particularly in rural communities that are mostly elderly. So the fact that we had an opportunity and we took it, to make sure that those priorities were included.”
“Both sides got things in there that they liked. Both sides probably have things that are not as much of a priority to them, but it was a give,” Sen. President Jackson said. “I think there’s good stuff all the way around and people should feel very good that this is a true bipartisan budget that everyone knows is going to be better for the state of Maine.”
The full legislature is expected to vote on the proposed budget in a hearing on Wednesday.
KEEPING PROMISES ON PROPERTY TAX RELIEF
- Restores revenue sharing: The budget makes good on the state’s commitment to our city, towns, and municipalities by fully investing in revenue sharing by the end of the biennium. This influx in funds to local municipalities will help stabilize property taxes by shifting the cost of essential services off of property taxpayers. The budget raises municipal revenue sharing from 3.75% to 4.5% in Fiscal Year 22 and 5 percent in Fiscal Year 23.
- Expands Property Tax Fairness Credit to 83,000 Mainers: The budget improved the Property Tax Fairness Credit, providing a one-time boost in the maximum benefit from $750 to $12,000 for income-eligible families, and $1,000 to $1,500 for seniors. The budget permanently changes eligibility for the program to provide property tax relief or rent relief to 83,000 Mainers.
- Bolsters the Homestead Exemption Program: In the biennial budget passed by the Legislature in March, lawmakers expanded the Homestead Property Tax Exemption, allowing Mainers to take $25,000 off the value of their home and only pay property taxes on the remaining amount through the Homestead Exemption Program. Under the current program, municipalities are only reimbursed by the state at 70 percent of the cost. This limits the programs’ impact on property tax relief. This budget increases the reimbursement by 3 percent each year until the state fully reimburses the municipalities to cover the full cost program.
SUPPORTING STUDENTS, TEACHERS & SCHOOLS
- Makes historic investments in public education: The budget fulfills the state’s commitment to Maine schools, municipalities and teachers by funding 55 percent of K-12 public education costs as outlined in statute. This marks the first time Maine has met the 55 percent threshold since Maine voters passed a referendum in 2004 requiring the state to contribute 55 percent of funding for K-12 public schools.
- Supports school capital improvement projects: The budget also adds $45M to the School Revolving Renovation Fund so schools can afford to make critical health, safety and capital upgrades. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed areas that need repair in schools all across the state. These funds will support these repair projects and others need to protect the health and safety of Maine teachers, students and school support staff.
- Supports higher education: The budget invests in the University of Maine System, Maine Community College System, and Maine Maritime Academy. It provides a 3 percent adjustment in funding each year to avoid tuition increases at each of the institutions, making it easier for Mainers to access workforce training and higher education.
- Addresses student hunger: The budget would make School Breakfast and National School Lunch programs available to all Maine students at no cost. Research has indicated that many families experiencing food insecurity do not qualify for school meals under the current eligibility guidelines. Given the projected increase in students likely to qualify for school meals in the wake of the pandemic, this will ensure that no student goes to school hungry.
- Invests in Maine’s workforce training through Career and Technical Education (CTE): Maine has not updated equipment and necessary capital improvements since 1997. The budget will support these improvements at CTE schools across Maine so students have access to the technology and tools they need to train for today’s economy.
SUPPORTING DIRECT CARE WORKERS, SENIORS AND VULNERABLE MAINERS
- Supports senior living facilities: The budget includes critical funding to maintain emergency rate increases that support nursing facilities and the hardworking professionals who care for the residents. Maine nursing homes and senior living facilities have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. These funds will help the facilities continue to operate and care for our loved ones.
- Supports all direct care workers: The budget raises MaineCare wage rates for direct care workers to 125 percent of minimum wage. Direct care workers provide quality, compassionate and personalized care to the residents in their care. Paying direct care workers a fair, living wage recognizes the importance of their work and will help attract and retain quality professionals to this vital field.
- Supports Mainers with intellectual disabilities: The budget funds a rate increase to ensure that Mainers with intellectual disabilities can access adequate services.
- Funds preventative dental care: This measure will expand access to preventative dental care to an estimated 217,000 Mainers while saving the state in costly emergency room visits, cutting healthcare costs statewide.
- Invests in treating substance use disorder: The budget funds community treatment options and provides rate increases for recovery support services.
- Provides hazard bonuses for working Mainers: The budget provides a one-time $300 “hazard payment” to Mainers earning $75,000 or less as an individual; $150,000 or less for joint filers. This will support more than 500,000 Mainers who worked in unprecedented and hazardous circumstances during a one-in-a-lifetime pandemic.
- Preserves and protects Maine’s natural resources: The budget includes $40 million for the Land for Maine’s Future program to ramp up Maine’s land conservation efforts. In the wake of COVID-19, Maine’s conservation areas have experienced unprecedented foot traffic. These funds will play a vital role in supporting Maine’s outdoor recreation economy and Maine’s tourist economy. The budget also includes vital funds and 20 new DEP positions to clean up PFAS contamination.
- Grows the rainy day fund: The budget sets money aside for emergencies by adding a minimum of $60 million to the rainy day fund. This brings the total to $328.2 million — a historic high. For the past several years, lawmakers have made it a priority to responsibly set funds aside for emergency use should Maine experience an economic downturn. The budget continues this trend.
- Supports the work of the permanent commission: The budget provides critical funding for the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous and Maine Tribal Populations to promote, implement and coordinate programs that create and improve opportunities and incorporate the goal of eliminating disparities for historically disadvantaged racial, indigenous and tribal populations in the State.
- Exempts the sale of menstrual products from sales tax: Maine will become the next state to abolish taxes on these sales to remove barriers to accessing necessary menstrual products.
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