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Maine's Rural Students: Left Behind in Federal Stimulus?

Maine is considered the most rural state in the country. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, advocated for specific rural funding in the HEROES Act, which wasn't included in the CARES Act. (Wolfpoint/Creative Commons)
Maine is considered the most rural state in the country. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, advocated for specific rural funding in the HEROES Act, which wasn't included in the CARES Act. (Wolfpoint/Creative Commons)
June 5, 2020

RUMFORD, Maine - Rural communities in Maine are watching Congress to see if they'll fare better with getting federal economic relief than they have so far.

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act new coronavirus relief bill, passed two weeks ago in the U.S. House, but is stalled in the Senate with little chance of passing.

Students in rural parts of Maine are one group that would benefit from more federal assistance. The HEROES Act includes about three times as much money for public education as its predecessor, the CARES Act.

Carolyn Curtis, a school social worker in Oxford County, is seeing her students' needs increase during the pandemic.

"Because of all the stressors that have been going on with COVID-19 and also with unemployment," says Curtis, "I've been hearing about increased cases of physical, emotional abuse and unhealthy relationships happening."

Curtis is so concerned about her students that for the first time, she's trying to work with them over the summer. She says that depends on funding and a shrinking local tax base.

While the CARES Act provided Maine with $1.25 billion, including money for public schools, the HEROES Act would mean $5 billion for the state. The difference is partly because the CARES Act focused on municipalities with more than 500,000 people - no county in Maine has that large a population.

The HEROES Act would also increase financing for broadband infrastructure. Curtis says a lack of internet service in rural Maine is the most significant barrier to remote learning.

"A big issue that we've really experienced is our Wi-Fi is not really consistent," says Curtis. "So a lot of students - even though they're trying to do virtual meets and 'Zooms' - they can't always have the WiFi to log in."

She also worries that the recession will deepen over the summer. Sixteen percent of Maine's economy runs on tourism.

The HEROES Act would allocate more than $20 million to Oxford County. Sen. Susan Collins hasn't committed to voting for it.

Laura Rosbrow-Telem, Public News Service - ME