Stimulus resources and support for Maine’s island and coastal communities

Craig Olson
Posted 2020-04-01
New relief funding options will lend support to municipalities, small business owners and the self-employed facing economic pressures from the pandemic.

We live in new times. 

The recently approved $2.2 trillion aid package (CARES Act) is more than two and a half times the size of the 2008 stimulus package, the largest in history at that time. With money flowing out to communities hit by the pandemic at an unprecedented level, we are here to help make sense of how to access funding and do our best to connect you, your business, and your organization to those resources. We want Maine communities and businesses to get their fair share of these funds.

We also know that we cannot meet every need in every community we serve, no matter how much we want to help. At this moment in the crisis, we are focusing on three crucial areas as our president, Rob Snyder, outlined in his Field Notes column last week: passing Maine’s $15 million broadband bond; helping to create and support resilient leadership within communities; and continuing small business support.

Maine’s $15 million broadband bond

With more than 85,000 homes in Maine lacking access to an internet connection and with many thousands of students trying to use distance learning technology without a connection, there is a clear need for state funding to help support the public-private partnerships that will build this infrastructure. We know that now, and in the future, connecting via fast, reliable, high-speed internet is an important aspect of everyday life and is even more crucial in uncertain times. Our Broadband team is collecting impactful stories that highlight the need for broadband in Maine—if you have a story to share, please email it to:

Resilient leadership in our communities

Leadership in times like this is crucial. We are seeing individuals up and down the coast stepping up in uncertain times to make sure that community needs are met as well as identifying what communities need. We are sharing technology tips and guidance for online meetings, and increasing our own digital outreach in those communities by holding a weekly meeting of all 15 unbridged, year-round island communities. In this forum, island representatives can share concerns, tips, and general information with other participants who understand exactly where they are coming from and the challenges and opportunities that island life affords.  

Small business assistance through the stimulus

With an entire team focused on the stimulus package and its rollout, we are monitoring what assistance will be available for municipalities, health care providers, public safety services, and nonprofits, but realize that they all have robust support associations that will provide them with the bulk of their information and access to the funding process. Our primary focus, right now, is determining what aid is available for small business owners and the self-employed—the bulk of our workforce on the islands and along the coast. 

There is money in the CARES Act for both the small businesses and the self-employed that are very common in Maine’s coastal communities.

In addition to an increase in unemployment benefits that can place the maximum weekly benefit at over $1,000 with no waiting period, for the first time self-employed individuals can file for and receive benefits. Artists and craftsmen, fishermen, landscapers, plumbers, and consultants may all be eligible for up to 13 weeks of compensation. In a state where the self-employed often work multiple jobs, this will be a great benefit.

For small businesses, long-term, low interest loans will be available through the Small Business Administration (SBA) and local banks. Of particular interest to all small businesses is the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) which will loan businesses the funds to cover employee payroll and associated expenses between February 15 and June 30, 2020; if the money is all used for payroll, the loan will be forgiven. Additional details on this and other small business programs included in the CARES Act can be found here. Applications are not available for this program at this time, but we do expect to see this rolled out within the week.

Those are just two areas that hold great promise for the self-employed and small businesses. Knowing that things are moving rapidly, what can you do to get yourself ready for the application process? 

We suggest the following:

  1. Document the harm that the shutdown is having on your business. When did your orders or service calls begin to drop?
  2. Get your financial records for the last two years or longer in order and make sure you can back up your claims. For example, if you were doing $10,000 in sales in March of 2019, and this year your sales were $4,000, you need to be able to document that change. Also, what are you projecting for sales for the next three months, and how does that compare to last year?
  3. File your 2019 taxes (but be aware that there are income-based phase out provisions). If you haven’t filed taxes in previous years but should have, do that too. If you didn’t file taxes in 2018 and don’t intend to file in 2019 (unless you are receiving social security benefits), you will not be eligible for the direct stimulus payments to individuals and families.
We’re here to support you

These are just a few of the highlights in the stimulus package. But, one size does not fit all. There are going to be gaps. It is also our charge to determine what those gaps are and how we can find the resources to fill them. That’s where we need your help.  If you’ve tried to access funding, can’t find more information for a specific program, or have a business that doesn’t seem to fit the funding guidelines, please let us know. If you are unsure of what assistance you or your business might qualify for, contact us. We are part of a much larger network of government agencies and financial services organizations that we will be drawing on daily to cut through the red tape and try to get the answers you need. 

As the crisis progresses, we will continue to reach out with more information on how stimulus package resources can be used in your business or community.

A final thought: We will get through this. But how well we come through this crisis depends upon how well we band together to help not only our families, but our neighbors and the communities we call home. Just know, that in all of this, the Island Institute staff is here to help to the best of our ability as an organization.

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Additional Resources

For a complete list of resources to help support you right now, visit our resource pages: