‘The last thing people need to worry about in the middle of a pandemic is losing their home’

Fri, 07/31/2020 - 6:00pm

The following is a transcript of Governor Janet Mills’ weekly radio address. 

Hello, this is Governor Janet Mills and thank you for listening today.

First off I want to thank people all across the state. You all have turned to and taken the steps to protect the health and safety of all of us: by wearing face coverings; by keeping your distance; by adapting your businesses and safely serving customers and keeping staff and visitors safe; by encouraging friends and family to get tested or quarantine if come here from another state. All these actions have contributed to our low positivity rate and they’ve allowed our economy to reopen gradually, but safely so far and these actions will enable our schools to open safely in the coming weeks.

But we won’t stop. This deadly virus does not take time off and while we’re proud of our progress, we are not immune from the surges we’ve seen in other states.

We all want Maine people to be healthy. We want the economy to become strong and to expand.

It’s not easy –

The best thing we can do for economic health is to protect public health.

Many people in Maine are still experiencing significant financial hardship too as a result of COVID-19.

The last thing people need to worry about in the middle of a pandemic is losing their home.

So back in April, we established a rent relief program, with non-taxpayer dollars, to help keep people in their homes.

Under that program, each eligible household got up to $500 in rental assistance paid directly to their landlord, and in exchange, the landlord would agree not to bring eviction proceedings for that month.

As of July 16th, nearly 7,000 applications were approved and more than $3.3 million in direct relief was provided to Maine people.

I also signed an Executive Order back then that prevented the immediate eviction of tenants who were unable to pay their rent due to COVID-19 financial issues.

As the Maine Supreme Judicial Court is reopening the courts this coming week, and as the federal government appears poised to reduce unemployment benefits, I am now concerned that many Maine people may face a housing cliff.

So, I am dedicating $5 million in federal Covid Relief Funds to expand our rental assistance programs starting Monday, August 3rd. MaineHousing then will double the rental assistance payment we have from $500 to $1,000 a month.

Eligible households may receive up to $1,000 in rental assistance for up to three months and that assistance may also be used to pay arrearages. In accepting these payments, the landlord will agree not to evict the tenant for the month the payment was issued.

I have also signed a new Executive Order that expands the timeframes for notice to quit in eviction proceedings.

So when the Court system reopens, this Order will continue a certain measure of protection for “at will,” or month to month, renters. The Order requires a landlord to provide at least 45 days’ notice to a person with a tenancy “at will” or month to month, rather than 30 days under law. If the landlord is attempting to evict a residential tenant for nonpayment, the Order increases an eviction notice time from 7 days to 30 days.

This Order also maintains some strengthened penalties for landlords who might try to evict tenants by unlawful means, self-help you know, like turning off utilities - prohibited.

We hope this expanded rental relief program and continued protections in the Executive Order will help renters and landlords alike.

Finally, we’re also expanding education, prevention, and wraparound services that will reduce the disproportionate racial and ethnic COVID disparities in Maine. This funding will go directly to community-based organizations – those who have “boots on the ground” – who are protecting and assisting people now in their communities and encouraging testing and prevention measures.

More information about the COVID-19 Rental Relief Program, including frequently asked questions, are found at www.mainehousing.org/covidrent.

I urge anyone struggling to pay their rent to apply for these funds.

This is Governor Janet Mills and thank you so much for listening.