Much of Maine’s $191M Pandemic Relief Funds Still Unspent

(TNS) — More than a year after Maine’s county governments and largest cities received $191 million in federal pandemic relief, much of the money remains unspent, even as they prepare for a second cash injection.

The money, from the American Rescue Plan Act approved in March 2021, was intended to help local governments confront the pandemic, assist struggling businesses and workers, and replace lost government revenue.

But as the public health threat and risk of severe economic recession fade, many local governments are choosing instead to invest the federal windfall on long-term investments. Many officials describe ARPA funding as a one-time opportunity to make improvements that will last generations. As a result, some governments — especially Maine’s county administrations — are deliberately sitting on tens of millions of dollars and making spending decisions gradually.


“Just because money is not committed doesn’t mean we are not vetting and reviewing plans,” said Allen Sicard, chairman of the York County Board of Commissioners. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a game changer. We want to use it judicially, and we think we are.”

Local governments have until the end of 2024 to make spending commitments but don’t have to use all the money until 2027.

To date, York County has committed nearly $10 million out of an expected payment totaling $40 million. More than $2.7 million went to premium pay for corrections officers and $1.5 million to creating a teen center in a renovated Biddeford church and $1.8 million for a coastal dredging vessel. Contemplated projects include a substance abuse rehabilitation center and first responder training center near the county jail and affordable housing in Sanford.

County officials don’t want to spend the money to subsidize daily operating costs, even though some people suggested divvying it up among the 29 communities in the county.

“We wanted to make an impact,” Sicard said. “An…

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