Last Updated: Tuesday, 9/20/2023
Governor Mills declared a state of emergency on Thursday, September 14th and on the 15th, President Biden approved a federal state of emergency for Maine. On the morning of Sunday, September 17th, Governor Mills ended the state of emergency as the storm moved on and recovery began. We know you may have questions as you are cleaning up from the storm. We’ve tried to anticipate some of the most common issues that come with disasters and answer those questions below.
Resources During the Storm and Recovery
Where can I get help if I need shelter, food, drinking water, clothes, toiletries, or support? If I need to leave my home unexpectedly or lose power for a long time?
There are several resources to find help with basic needs:
- Maine 211 (you can dial 211 or text your zip code to 898-211)
- Mass Care - Maine Emergency Management Agency
- County Emergency Management Agencies - Maine Emergency Management Agency
- American Red Cross
Can emergency services like shelters and meal providers discriminate against me?
No. There are federal and state laws that protect you from discrimination based on your race, color, ancestry, national origin, sex, sexual orientation (which includes gender identity and expression), physical or mental disability, religion and, in certain circumstances, age. These laws apply even during disasters.
If you are a person with disabilities, you may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation to give you equal access to services. In a disaster, people with disabilities can be especially vulnerable to discrimination because the emergency services and support systems may not always consider disabled community members in their planning. This presentation from the Partnership for Inclusive Disaster Strategies is not Maine-specific, but it has helpful information about what people with disabilities and their communities can do to protect their rights and independence during a disaster.
Am I eligible for FEMA Assistance?
A Federal state of emergency was declared for Maine ahead of Hurricane Lee. This means FEMA is authorized to help state, local, and tribal governments in Maine with responding to and recovering from the storm.
At this time, 'individual assistance' - help from FEMA for people impacted directly by the storm - is not available. We will update this page if that changes.
I’m very worried about the storm, is there any help or support available?
Yes. There is a program called the Disaster Distress Helpline which is ‘dedicated to providing year-round disaster crisis counseling. This toll-free, multilingual, crisis support service is available 24/7 to all residents in the U.S. and its territories who are experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters.’
The Helpline is available 24 hours a day for anyone feeling stressed about a disaster. To connect with the Helpline call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor.
What happens if I am on SNAP (food stamps) and I lose food due to a power outage?
You may be able to get replacement SNAP benefits. You must apply within 10 days of the power outage by contacting DHHS at 1-855-797-4357. Find more information about replacing lost food after a power outage from Maine Equal Justice.
What will happen if my home is damaged in the storm and I can't live there until the damage is repaired? Does my landlord have to put me up somewhere? Do I still have to pay my rent?
If storm damage makes your home unlivable, there are two things that could happen. Your landlord could put you up in alternative accommodations while you continue to pay rent and repairs are made. Or, your tenancy could end because of the extent of the damage. You will no longer owe rent but you will have to find a new place to live.
What if my home is damaged in the storm and my landlord blames me? Can my landlord insist I keep the basement pumped out by hand or else be responsible for any water damage?
Landlords are responsible for damage that a tenant did not cause.
You could be responsible if you left all your windows open during the storm and made the damage worse. But, if you took reasonable precautions and your unit is damaged, the landlord is responsible for repairing the damages and paying for the repairs. It is not reasonable for your landlord to expect you to take extreme measures like staying up all night to bail out your basement.
Do I still owe rent if I lose power or lose other utilities?
Generally speaking, yes. You still owe rent for any time period you are living in your rental, even if you don’t have utility services.
A landlord is responsible for making any needed repairs to allow utility companies to restore services. You should not withhold rent payment without talking to a lawyer first.
Someone knocked on my door and offered to repair my home immediately. Should I trust them?
Unfortunately, people with bad intentions can take advantage of emergencies to try to scam people. Maine has strong consumer protection laws that protect you from door-to-door repair offers.
Before hiring a contractor who knocked on your door, you should always:
- Ask to see their state issued registration card
- Get a contract in writing
- Confirm that they are properly insured
- Be given the opportunity to wait three days before the work begins and the right to cancel during those three days
If a contractor refuses to follow those terms, do not pay them any money. You can report them to your local law enforcement agency.
My homeowners insurance says it doesn’t cover floods. Is that right?
Homeowners insurance policies do not normally cover flood damage. Flood insurance is usually a separate policy. There may be some coverage for surface runoff from rain. Homeowners should always check their insurance policies.
Some people might be eligible for flood insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program. This will not help with damage from storms that have already happened.
What happens if I can't get to work due to storm conditions/damage - can I be fired for that?
If you are a farm worker and are worried about how the storm could impact your job, or have questions, contact our Farmworker Unit.
Other types of workers should reach out to the Volunteer Lawyers Project/Southern Maine Workers Center for questions about their employment rights.
I work in Portland – is the emergency minimum wage in effect? Where can I learn more?
Portland's emergency minimum wage was in effect during the declared state of emergency. When Governor Mills declared a state of emergency on Thursday, 9/14 the City of Portland’s Emergency Minimum Wage went into effect for covered workers in Portland. It remained in effect until the morning of Sunday, 9/17 when Governor Mills ended the state of emergency.
This means that for many hourly workers in Portland the minimum wage was $21 (1.5 x the regular Portland minimum wage of $15). For tipped workers in Portland the minimum wage was $10.50 (plus tips). These minimum wages were in effect during the state of emergency. Read the press release from the City of Portland.
To learn more about your rights under this ordinance, you can read the sections about the emergency minimum wage (Section 33.7 (g)).
You can also visit the City of Portland’s minimum wage page, which has more information and a complaint form to report violations of this minimum wage ordinance.
About Courts and Government Agencies
I have a court date during or right after the storm. Where can I get information about whether or not it is still happening? Will I be penalized if I don't have access to a phone or internet to check or tell the court that I can't make it due to the storm?
If you can’t make a court date due to dangerous conditions, you should call the court and tell them as soon as possible. If you do not have the ability to contact the court due to lack of phone service, you should contact the court as soon as possible when service is restored.
If you do not go to court and court is open, you may be defaulted. Defaulted means that the other side wins. For example, if you are a tenant facing eviction, you will be evicted. If you have sued someone in Small Claims court, the case will be dismissed.
If you are unable to go to court because of dangerous conditions and are defaulted, you may be able to ask the court to reopen your case and give you another chance. The courts do not grant these requests often. You must be able to prove you have a significant reason for not being at court and show that you have a good argument in your case.
If you were defaulted and missed court because of storm conditions, call Pine Tree Legal Assistance. We may be able to help.