Hearing from people across Maine guides my work in Washington
During my time in Maine this summer, I visited all of the 16 counties in our state, hearing feedback from Maine people about the issues important to them, their families and their communities. My stops throughout the state once again reminded me that Maine is a big small town with very long streets – we care about each other and our friends and neighbors. Listening to people from Sanford to Fort Fairfield – and everywhere in between – is a breath of fresh air and helps guide my work in Washington.
One of my primary focuses during my August work session was discussing strategies to help grow and strengthen the workforce. At the beginning of August, I visited the Katahdin region where I spoke with educators and students in Northern Maine Community College and Katahdin Region Higher Learning Center’s Mechanized Logging Program, who were celebrating new no-cost lease equipment from Milton-CAT and Nortrax. This partnership will help ensure that our forest industry workforce continues to have access to modernized training equipment.
While in Penobscot County, I also met with Our Katahdin, a local non-profit comprised of motivated volunteers, to tour the former Great Northern Paper mill site in Millinocket. We discussed the group’s plans to develop a new, innovative industrial park on the mill site that aims to bring new businesses and jobs to the Millinocket area. Reenergizing the Katahdin region requires a comprehensive effort from all levels of government, from leaders in the private sector, and from enterprising people in the community. This is exactly what homegrown initiatives like Our Katahdin are bringing to the region. This type of on-the-ground leadership, provided with the right support, can strengthen the vibrant Katahdin region and build on its heritage to create ripples of energy and growth that help people thrive.
Expanding access to broadband is also important to further economic development efforts in rural communities. That’s why I invited Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to Maine to highlight the importance of high-speed internet for businesses across our state. We toured the Waterville Library Business, Career, and Creativity Center to hear about its digital literacy and career development efforts and the Center’s entrepreneurial support; heard from the owners of Buckle Farm in Unity about how rural broadband is critical to Maine’s agriculture industry and expands access to markets; participated in a digital literacy class for business owners with Axiom Technologies; and rounded out the day with a listening session at Unity College.
Later in the month, I was in Ellsworth to celebrate the launch of city’s open access broadband fiber network at the Union River Center for Innovation. The open access network provides high-speed Internet to the Center, an incubator for startup businesses, and enhances next-generation connectivity for businesses along the fiber network in Ellsworth. At the launch, I also released a proposal of steps we need to take to help meet broadband challenges in Maine, and issued these strategies in a white paper. Rural broadband can help entrepreneurs grow their business, enable farmers to practice precision agriculture and access new markets, and help students learn in an expanding digital world. It’s something we must keep working on to grow our state’s workforce and it was great to see so many people dedicated to connecting Maine’s rural communities.
Strengthening the abilities of working families to care for their children while also holding down full-time jobs also helps the resilience of our state’s economy. That’s why I met with parents, children, and childcare professionals at the Coffey Child Development Center in Bangor to discuss challenges facing childcare providers and strategies to make childcare more affordable for Maine families. When childcare costs become too expensive, parents often have to make difficult decisions, like staying home from work, to ensure their children can learn and grow in a healthy environment. To address this issue, I’ve introduced the Promoting Affordable Childcare for Everyone (PACE) Act with U.S. Senator Richard Burr, R-North Carolina that would improve and modernize the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to help American families pay for childcare.
I also joined Jim Wellehan, President of Lamey Wellehan Shoes, and Eliza Townsend, Executive Director of the Maine Women’s Lobby, in Auburn to outline my support for the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY) Act, paid family and medical leave legislation that underscores the importance of comprehensive family leave policies to support working parents and family caregivers in Maine. Whether it’s supporting an aging parent, a sick relative, or a newborn child, people don’t know when a family issue might arise, and right now there is just a patchwork of family leave coverage depending on the state or the employer. This bill will help families maintain a stable income during trying times, and strengthen employers’ abilities to retain their hardworking employees.
And, combining fun and business, I also traveled about 300 miles of Maine’s back roads on my Harley, stopping in smaller towns like Monson, Kingfield, Bethel, Otisfield and Mt. Vernon. There were lots of conversations along the way, and a great close-up experience of rural Maine at its best.
This summer provided important insights about how Congress can work together to support people in Maine and in many rural parts of the nation. I am always inspired by the thoughtful, issue-driven concerns of Maine people and am honored to give voice to those concerns in Washington. If you see me on the road in Maine this fall, please stop, say hello and tell me what’s on your mind. I will carry all that I learn with me to the Senate.