Residents, state work to help those hurt by COVID-19

By Erin Herbig | May 02, 2020

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is important to acknowledge how very challenging, stressful and sad this has been. Most of us can only imagine the pain too many families have felt as they have lost a loved one under the current circumstances. Many Mainers continue to feel overwhelmed with concern for family members they cannot visit or check in on, particularly those at Tall Pines. This health crisis has affected all Waldo County families with many different forms of hardship, including my own.

As your state senator, city manager of Belfast and a lifelong member of this community, the spread of COVID-19 at Tall Pines breaks my heart. This virus is most unkind to our most vulnerable neighbors. The employees at Tall Pines who are caring for these individuals are truly heroes among us. Their work is exceptional, particularly under these circumstances. I admire how so many employees at Tall Pines have stepped up to provide more care, while still going home to care for their own families. To Executive Director Matt Griswold and his team at Tall Pines, thank you.

Also inspiring has been the outpouring of support from our community for Tall Pines. Waldo County General Hospital, the city of Belfast, hospice volunteers, local businesses, churches and community organizations have been stepping up to coordinate support for Tall Pines and its employees with food, water and even bird feeders. This reminds me why we are in this fight against COVID-19, and why our community is so resilient. When things get tough, we come together, we stay strong amidst grief and uncertainty, and we do not give up. That is who we are.

It is also important to acknowledge how very frustrating and stressful it has been for many people who have been without work because of COVID-19 to apply for unemployment. The problems so many have experienced with the Department of Labor’s unemployment system –– including dropped calls, unreachable representatives and error messages –– are unacceptable.

Over the past month, Maine’s Department of Labor has received 89,500 claims, the most ever for a four-week period in Maine history. And when the crisis began, DOL had 13 customer service representatives. To answer more calls, it has hired 100 more people to serve Mainers and process their claims. It has paid out more than $100 million in benefits and is working to process the backlog of claims, while creating a new system under federal guidelines to provide benefits to those who are self-employed and sole proprietors. I will continue to do everything I can to keep you well informed and advocate for you, so please reach out to me if you are struggling.

It has also been frustrating, to the point of being infuriating, that low-interest loans for our small businesses have been difficult to access. Big companies applied for the loans early, leaving little for small businesses that were working with our local banks. I am hopeful, however, that more loans will become available to Waldo County businesses, since Congress voted April 23 to replenish these programs. To learn more about these programs, consult your local bank or the Finance Authority of Maine at famemaine.com, Maine Small Businesses Development Centers at mainesbdc.org/, or U.S. Small Business Administration at sba.gov.

State Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Waldo, represents Senate District 11. She is also city manager of Belfast.

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