As the cold winter months press on and temperatures continue to drop, we finally have some aid on its way. On Wednesday, Jan. 4, we successfully passed a winter energy relief package with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate after a month of delay. After hearing so much testimony from people all over the state, it meant a lot to me that folks from across the aisle were able to put aside their differences and vote to do the right thing.

This plan, proposed by Gov. Janet Mills, provides direct energy relief payments of $450 each to more than 800,000 Mainers, $40 million to reinforce HEAP (which assists low-income Mainers with heating costs) to make up for the increased energy prices, $10 million in emergency fuel assistance for immediate, desperate needs and $21 million for the Emergency Housing Relief Fund, for emergency housing, shelters and warming centers.

The bill also bolsters federal heating assistance plans and provides greater assistance for community action agencies, which are doing the work locally to make sure people get the help and security they need this winter.

Right now, anyone who needs assistance should contact their local Community Action Agency. For us in Knox County, that would be Penquis, which can be reached at (207) 596-0361 or online at penquis.org.

However, as many of my colleagues said, this legislation is not a permanent solution. While I am happy that lots of folks are going to be able to get some help this winter, we will need longer term solutions to help with Maine’s growing problems with affordable housing and heating costs. I am confident we can make that happen, but the work starts with us. The new housing committee is a great start here.

Finally, I wanted to let people know how they can submit testimony for bills. Hundreds of bills will be going through committees this legislative session, and the more testimony we have about how these bills will affect Mainers, the better positioned we will be to work with them and get the best version possible for a bill. If you hear of any bills that you are knowledgeable or passionate about, there are multiple ways to give testimony.

On the Maine State Legislature website at legislature.maine.gov, you will have the option to submit testimony under the committee tab. From there, select the type of hearing, the committee, the date and time, and then the specific bill you would like to testify on. Once you’ve done that, complete the form and click “Submit/Register” at the bottom of the page. You can choose to submit both written testimony or present it in person. Please keep in mind that if you would like to give testimony in front of a committee, you must submit it at least 30 minutes before the hearing begins. I highly encourage everyone to submit testimony if they feel strongly about a bill this session. Hearing from everyday Mainers makes more of a difference than you realize.

If you have any questions regarding getting heating relief, submitting testimony or anything else, feel free to contact me at Anne.Beebe-Center@legislature.maine.gov or call my legislative office at (207)287-1515.