Maine May Privatize Welfare Program

Maine’s ASPIRE program, currently run by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), may soon be privatized. If Fedcap Rehabilitation Services (FRS), an organization based in New York, receives the contract as expected, approximately 50 state jobs will be cut. Earlier this year, DHHS announced the potential shift from a state-run program, stating that the change was necessary to meet federal goals for participation. Opponents of the change have raised concerns about potential increased administrative costs and the lawsuits FRS is currently facing for a variety of workplace violations. The ASPIRE program focuses on providing job training and employment opportunities for individuals receiving welfare benefits.

Potential New Limits on “Net Metering”

The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) recently proposed an amendment to its Net Energy Billing Rule that will phase out the state’s “net metering” program over the next 15 years.

The proposed rule grandfathers “existing” net metering customers as of December 31, 2016 and allows them to continue to net 100% of their excess generation for up to 15 years. The proposed rule allows “new” net metering customers to net meter for 15 years, but reduces the percentage of excess generation that can be used to net against the transmission and distribution (T&D) portion of a customer’s bill by 10% each year. According to the PUC, this gradual reduction in netting for purposes of the T&D portion of the bill is intended to recognize the declining cost of renewable technologies, particularly solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies. The proposed amended rule also makes other changes to the existing rule. A public hearing on the proposed rule will be held on October 17, 2016 at 1 p.m. at the PUC. Written comments on the proposed rule are now being accepted through November 2, 2016, but the PUC has requested that comments be submitted by October 12, 2016. For further information, contact Sarah Tracy.

Democrats Seek “A Better State of Maine”

Earlier this week House and Senate Democratic leadership held a forum in Topsham to discuss their vision for Maine’s future. The leadership cited the importance of finding ways to keep young people in Maine and the need to revive Maine’s economy. The Democrats indicated they hope to work with Republicans during the next legislative session to, among other things, fund more infrastructure projects and increase access to broadband networks. Another forum is planned for Bangor sometime in October.

Forest Products Industry Supports Maine Jobs

Despite recent mill closures and personnel layoffs, the Maine Forest Products Council (MFPC) heard some good news at its annual meeting earlier this week. At the meeting, the 2016 Maine’s Forest Economy report was released, tentatively indicating that the state’s forest products industry will contribute more than $8 billion to Maine’s economy this year, which is about the same contribution as made in 2011. Forest products-related activity supports more than 33,000 full- or part-time jobs. The report also confirmed that paper, wood products, and forestry products remain Maine’s largest export, which in 2014 had a combined value of $737 million. In addition, Maine relies on forest product-related jobs more than any other state in the country. Innovative product development to take advantage of Maine’s abundant natural fiber resource has been identified as a path to growth within the industry.