Dept. of Labor joins new federal unemployment programs to help Mainers during COVID-19

Tue, 03/31/2020 - 9:15am

AUGUSTA — The Maine Department of Labor has opted in to new temporary federal unemployment programs to provide relief to people in Maine affected by COVID-19, according to a news release. 

Congress enacted and the President signed the new CARES Act which includes these provisions on Friday, March 28. On Saturday the 29th, the state completed the documentation to begin the process for receiving the new federal unemployment funds.

Because Maine already had in place emergency unemployment insurance (UI) measures of the Governor’s COVID-19 bill, Maine was able to opt-in to the additional $600 per week in benefits and the additional 13 weeks of benefits, the release read.

These programs are not currently available in Maine but, once fully implemented, they will temporarily extend the scope and benefits of the state’s unemployment program, per the release. 

“We know working people and employers in Maine need help in these challenging times, and last week over six million dollars were paid in unemployment benefits,” said Commissioner Laura Fortman.

The new programs are complex and MDOL is working to implement them as quickly as possible. “We will continue to provide information as it becomes available. Once implemented, benefits will be paid retroactively.”

As soon as they are available, these new temporary federal programs will bring to Maine people and employers:

• Unemployment benefits for those not covered by regular unemployment, including the self-employed, those at home taking care of a child unable to attend school, or whose child care is unavailable, among others.

• Increased weekly unemployment benefits of $600 per week—added to the regular weekly unemployment insurance benefits.

• Extended unemployment benefits for up to 13 additional weeks beyond the regular amount of up to 26 weeks of unemployment insurance, for a total of up to 39 weeks for those who have exhausted current benefits.

• Support for the layoff aversion program (Workshare), an unemployment option that helps businesses retain their workforce during a temporary slowdown in work. The program allows employers to voluntarily reduce the hours of staff in lieu of layoffs. Employees of the business are allowed to collect a partial unemployment benefit to help them offset the loss of income.

• Provides aid to direct reimbursable employers by offering 50% federal funding of the COVID-19-related benefit claims charges. These are government (state, local and tribal) as well as certain non-profit employers who have chosen to reimburse the cost of unemployment benefits paid out in lieu of paying unemployment taxes.

People who have exhausted all available benefits already or are self-employed should wait to file a claim for benefits. Since these programs have not been implemented yet, filing at this point filing will only result in a denial. Those who have already enrolled in the current program should continue filing weekly certifications.

Maine Department of Labor’s Unemployment Insurance Program provides partial wage replacement for workers who experience job layoff, loss or reduction in hours through no fault of their own. Those who are unsure if they are eligible for unemployment benefits are encouraged to apply. MDOL will review information provided by both the applicant and the employer to make a case-by-case determination about eligibility. It is highly recommended that all who can, please apply online using a computer. The system is available 24/7 on the unemployment webpage.

The phone is available 1-800-593-7660 between 8 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Monday-Friday. Because so many Mainers have been impacted, the phone queue fills quickly. The Department encourages people to keep trying. For simple questions or for password resets, please call the nearest CareerCenter.

Information on the Department’s website is updated frequently, see the COVID-19 page. Follow the Maine Department of Labor on Facebook @MElabor and Twitter @maine_labor.