Waldoboro employees and volunteers are calling residents in alphabetical order to check on them, and the town plans to start back at the beginning of the list as soon as they finish it.
Depending on a resident’s needs, town officials might help them apply for unemployment or pick up groceries for them. Many residents are in quarantine due to coronavirus precautions, while others have lost their jobs due to the resulting economic turmoil.
According to Town Manager Julie Keizer, the phone check-ins started after a meeting about the town’s response to the emergency in late March.
“We are almost through going A-Z, and we are going to keep calling and start back at number one when we finish,” Keizer said.
Waldoboro Fire Chief Paul Smeltzer said firefighters volunteered to help. Recreation Director Marcus Benner and Robert Butler, chair of the board of selectmen, have assisted as well, according to Keizer.
“We are letting people know we are here, finding out what they need and if we can help. Honestly, it has been good to talk to people, have these conversations and show them that somebody cares,” Keizer said.
Keizer said firefighters have been going to the grocery store to pick up and deliver food to those who need it.
Additionally, the town office is helping businesses apply for loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Keizer said the economic turmoil is impacting a wide swath of residents.
“Week one everyone seemed to be fine, but I started to see a shift. What I’m finding is that this is impacting people who have never been in a system, never had to apply for general assistance,” Keizer said.
“I’m amazed at the stories that are being shared,” she said, including those from recent homebuyers and workers waiting for unemployment. “I’m finding they are not necessarily worried about this week, but worried about the next two to three weeks.”
Keizer has been frustrated by a lack of guidance from the state, including some confusion about essential businesses. A couple of Waldoboro business owners contacted the town office to find out whether they were essential.
“There has not been a lot of guidance from the top and that is where I am frustrated,” she said.
Additionally, Keizer said the Maine Legislature passed a bill allowing residents to register vehicles online, but the town is still waiting for guidance on the process.
Nonetheless, Keizer said the town office is ready to help residents in any way it can.
She said Waldoboro is in a unique position, as both the largest town in Lincoln County and a town with a high percentage of self-employed residents.
“I’m worried about the self-employed people. They seem to be in limbo,” she said. The federal government is allowing self-employed workers to receive unemployment, but has not provided guidance to states on how to implement the program.
Keizer said the situation has shown where the town can meet the needs of residents and where it could make improvements.
She has long advocated for a community navigator, a position at the town office that could connect people in need of various services with organizations that can help them.
The Boothbay Region Community Resource Council has a similar position.
“We need to get services to those who need it most and I think this time has proven a community navigator is something that is essential for Waldoboro,” Keizer said.