Soaring gas prices are hitting us and so many of our friends and neighbors hard. The fact is, most of us rely on gas to power our cars, and we rely on our cars to get us where we need to go. Public transportation simply isn’t an option for us in rural Maine. When gas prices go up, we don’t have the option of skipping work or a trip to the pharmacy just to avoid filling up our gas tank, so we’re left with little choice but to pay the price.
When times are tight and costs are high, it’s more important than ever that we make sure consumers are being treated fairly – not being taken advantage of by large corporations looking to turn a profit. Though there are many reasons why gas prices are so high right now – namely Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – it’s also true that gas companies are making record profits. In the first quarter of this year, Exxon Mobile, for example, tripled their profits over the same time last year. When executives and investors are making big money, all while Mainers tighten their purse strings, we need to stop and ask if other factors – like greed – are at play.
That’s why I and dozens of my colleagues in the Legislature wrote a letter formally requesting that Maine’s Attorney General Aaron Frey do everything in his power to investigate potential price gouging by gas companies. Price gouging was a major problem during the early days of the pandemic, when producers overcharged for commodities like toilet paper and hand sanitizer simply because they could. Consumers needed it and had no other choice. Gov. Janet Mills and AG Frey acted to protect consumers then, and I hope they’ll do all they can to protect consumers now.
To help Mainers cope with not only the increased cost of gas, but with pandemic-driven inflation more generally, the Legislature included direct relief as part of the bipartisan supplemental budget we passed in April. This relief is coming in the form of $850 checks to more than 850,000 individuals, and the checks have already started arriving in mailboxes. If your check hasn’t arrived yet, don’t worry; they will continue to be mailed out in batches over the coming weeks. Most people will automatically qualify for these checks, because we wanted to get this help to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.
To qualify, you must have earned less than $100,000 in tax year 2021 if you’re a single filer, less than $150,000 if you file as head of household, and less than $200,000 combined if you file jointly as part of a couple. No matter what your source of income was – wages, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income or anything else – you qualify as long you meet these income guidelines.
The only other step you must take is to file your 2021 Maine individual income taxes by Oct. 31 of this year. That means that even if you don’t make enough to file your taxes most years, you still must do so this year in order to get the check, but you have plenty of time. There is also help available if you need it. To find free, qualified help near you, dial 2-1-1 or visit www.cashmaine.org. If you have any other questions about the check, you can visit the online FAQ at www.maine.gov/governor/mills/relief-checks, call Maine Revenue Services at (207) 624-9924, or reach out to me directly any time.
I know times are hard right now. If I can help put you in touch with any resources, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. You can send me an email at Chloe.Maxmin@legislature.maine.gov, call or text my cell phone at (207) 200-6224, or find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ChloeForSenate. You can also sign up for my regular e-newsletter by visiting www.mainesenate.org.