STATEWIDE — Lawmakers are trying to push through a bill that will pay recent college graduates to volunteer in Maine communities
For years Maine lawmakers have been trying to solve Maine’s workforce issues.
Due to the pandemic, there are also increased issues with the statewide long-term public and mental health, substance abuse, and housing plights.
On Wednesday, legislators proposed creating the Maine Service Fellows Program to help solve all of those problems.
“The program will pay service fellows a living wage for their work and provide some student loan reimbursement upon completion of service, making this program appealing to thousands of young people in Maine who find themselves in debt after graduation,” said Rep. Morgan Reilly, D-Westbrook, the bill’s sponsor.
“These benefits will make service a reality for many young Mainers who want to serve, but are unable to because they can’t afford to do so,” Reilly said.
He added the program was created by a think-tank that volunteer Maine members held last fall.
Program participants will volunteer in rural communities that face economic losses from the pandemic.
And since they’d be paid for it, lawmakers said, the bill kills two birds with one stone.
“This legislation is aimed specifically at addressing the state’s growing workforce shortage, something we should be greatly concerned about,” said Rep. Kristen Cloutier, D-Lewiston.
“As young Mainers continue to leave our state after they graduate, our economy will suffer and so will the services and programs that rely on a workforce to meet the needs of our communities,” she said.
Reilly said because the bill addresses COVID-19 economic relief in rural communities, it qualifies for the American Rescue Plan funds. For $350,000 a year for three years, the program can be fully funded during its pilot timeline.
“MSF is designed to complement the existing Maine AmeriCorps program, and it’s specifically designed for our small communities and micro organizations in rural areas, allowing for a quicker implementation of the program on the ground and therefore a quicker return of investment,” Reilly said.
The bill will be reviewed by the legislature’s Committee on State and Local Government.