Throughout Maine’s history, our forest products industry has supported good-paying jobs, driven local economies, and strengthened rural communities. This industry is built on the backs of our dedicated loggers, who sustainably harvest and haul one of Maine’s most significant resources.
Loggers were already facing significant headwinds due to a changing 21st Century economy and unfair trade practices, as well as the explosion at the Androscoggin Mill in Jay and the shutdown of the paper machine at Sappi in Westbrook. COVID-19 has only compounded these challenges. The industry has experienced a steep decline in demand for wood fiber since the coronavirus pandemic began, leading to an estimated 20 percent or more drop in the timber harvest.
I am pleased to report that $200 million in critical financial assistance is finally on the way for family logging and log hauling businesses that need our support. The COVID-19 emergency relief package that was recently signed into law included this funding that I strongly advocated for, along with Rep. Jared Golden. It will help the skilled professionals who work in this industry to get through this difficult period. The funding will go to timber harvesting and hauling businesses that have, because of the COVID–19 pandemic, experienced a loss of 10 percent or more in gross revenue between Jan. 1 and Dec. 1, 2020, compared to the same period during 2019.
Ensuring that this $200 million in relief was included in the latest COVID-19 relief bills was one of my goals during the negotiations over the package.
Earlier this year, Congress passed multiple COVID-19 relief packages that included vital support for a wide range of producers and crop growers. A new program has been providing direct relief to farmers experiencing dramatic drops in prices and overall business activity due to the pandemic. When the program was expanded in September, additional eligible recipients identified by USDA included tobacco farmers, and producers of such products as ornamental fish, cut flowers, and Christmas trees, but the logging industry was inexplicably excluded.
I wrote to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to specifically request assistance to prevent the logging industry from falling through the gaps of the COVID-19 economic relief programs. Additionally, in a bipartisan, bicameral effort to extend this lifeline to loggers and log haulers, I authored the Loggers Relief Act with Congressman Golden. Our bill, which was co-sponsored by Senator Angus King and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, provided relief to loggers based on the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program model. I successfully pushed to incorporate this legislation in the COVID relief package that was signed into law in December.
Loggers and log haulers harvest the raw materials for our nation’s vital paper and construction industries, and they are the linchpin of our state’s economy. They generate an estimated $619 million in economic output and provide $342 million in income to around 9,000 Mainers, most of whom live in rural areas.
The $200 million in relief will provide crucial aid to an industry that is so vital to the people and communities in Maine and in many other states.