FILE - ME Janet Mills 6-27-2019

Maine Gov. Janet Mills speaks during a news conference June 27, 2019.

(The Center Square) – The distribution of Maine’s $1.25 billion in federal funding to states to help with COVID-19 financial relief has not yet been determined, but state lawmakers and local officials are eager to see plans in place.

“It's proper to spend the $1.25 billion Maine received from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act on new costs incurred by the state due to the pandemic,” Jacob Posik, Director of Communications at the Maine Policy Institute, told The Center Square via email. "What is improper is using the funding as ‘revenue backfill’ as described last [month] by members of Maine's Appropriations and Financial Affairs committee."

The institute sent a letter to lawmakers calling for a special session to address the state’s response to the pandemic, including how to spend the CARES Act funds.

“The Treasury Department in its guidance to states makes clear that COVID funds cannot be used to plug holes in state budgets,” Posik added.

Using the funds for schools may be premature when it’s not known when they will open, Posik said.

“Mainers are waiting for guidance from the Mills administration and Department of Education commissioner Pender Makin. It being June, it seems too soon for the state to make a final determination on the safety of returning to in-person instruction for K-12 public schools in the fall,” Posik said.

If the state finds that resumption of in-person classes comes with new costs to maintain the safety of students and staff, CARES Act funds could go toward that purpose, Posik said.

“However, if Maine's plan to return to in-person instruction is anywhere near as convoluted and confusing as the state's economic reopening plan, it's possible families find new means for educating their children, including homeschooling, virtual learning and other learning methods,” Posik added.

Other sectors also could benefit from the funding.

“Maine should follow New Hampshire's lead in making grants available to small businesses to help them survive the pandemic,” Posik said.