Dept. of Labor provides updates on unemployment benefits, fraud, workshops

Thu, 07/30/2020 - 8:45am

AUGUSTA — For the week ending July 25, the Maine Department of Labor recorded about 2,000 initial claims filed for state unemployment insurance, and 600 initial claims filed for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). These claims represent about 2,100 individuals filing an initial claim.

About 61,200 weekly certifications, or continued claims, were filed last week for state unemployment. In addition, about 26,000 weekly certifications were filed under PUA. Weekly certifications must be filed by claimants every week in order to continue to receive unemployment benefits.

Between March 15 and July 25, the Maine Department of Labor has paid out over $1.24 billion in federal and state unemployment benefits. By comparison, the Department paid out less than $74 million in unemployment benefits in all of 2019.

The Department has handled approximately 176,600 initial claims for the state unemployment program and 82,500 initial claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. There have been almost 1.87 million weekly certifications filed.

Claims data is preliminary and subject to revision. 

Fraud Update

The Maine Department of Labor continues its careful review of all claims as it investigates unemployment imposter fraud.

During the week ending July 25, the Department cancelled about 670 initial claims and 260 weekly certifications that were determined to be fraudulent.

Unemployment imposter fraud is when a person's Personally Identifiable Information, or PII, is stolen and used illegally to apply for unemployment benefits. Maine is one of many U.S. states working in close collaboration with state and federal law enforcement and regulatory agencies to investigate and prevent it.

The Department encourages anyone who believes that someone else has used their or their employees personal information to file a fraudulent unemployment application to notify the Department immediately using this form: maine.gov/unemployment/idtheft.

FPUC Program

Eligibility for the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, or the additional weekly $600, ended with benefit payments for the week ending July 25. This means that most people, depending on when they file their weekly certification for the week ending July 25, would receive that last payment during the week of July 26-August 1.

This is a federal program, and the Department is monitoring Congressional action for any possible extensions or changes to the FPUC program.

PUA Benefits

The Maine Department of Labor (MDOL) is continuing to update the weekly benefit payments for people currently enrolled in the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. This involves matching current tax information to individual claims to pay Maine people their full benefit, retroactive to the date of their PUA eligibility.

Launched in Maine in May, PUA is one of three new federal unemployment programs created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It covers workers previously ineligible for unemployment, such as the self-employed and gig workers, and is available through the week ending December 26, 2020.

To expedite payments to Mainers during COVID-19, MDOL approved the minimum state PUA benefit of $172 per week for all those eligible for PUA, pending the matching of updated tax information. The PUA minimum benefit amount is federally required to be half of the state's average weekly benefit.

Self-employed individuals whose net income, or other PUA recipients whose gross wages in 2019 were below $15,224 will continue to receive the minimum benefit of $172 a week, and do not need to take any action other than continuing to file weekly certifications. Individuals with higher earnings are eligible for a maximum benefit under the PUA program of up to $445 or $462 per week, depending on whether their initial claim was filed before or after June 1.

Updating the state benefit amounts with tax information will occur in two phases.

Phase 1: At the end of last week MDOL began automatically matching claimants with available 2019 tax information to determine eligibility for a higher benefit amount. MDOL estimates that 60 percent of claimants will be matched automatically.

Phase 2: Any claimant whose information cannot be automatically matched will be asked to upload their supporting tax documents through their ReEmployME account. MDOL will contact these claimants through email and regular mail with instructions on how to upload this information. Notifications will begin later this week. Information will also be posted on the Departments website: maine.gov/unemployment. 

Once redeterminations are made, claimants will receive a PUA monetary redetermination letter in the mail and in their ReEmployME account stating what their new benefit amount is. If retroactive benefits are due for past weeks, they will be made within 14 days of the claimant receiving their PUA redetermination letter. Claimants have the right to appeal the determination if they believe the information is not accurate.

Work Search and Maine JobLink Workshops

Under Maine law, all unemployment claimants are required to show that they are actively seeking work in order to receive benefits. This requirement had been temporarily waived at the start of the pandemic.

Starting with the weekly certification for the week beginning August 9, all claimants will need to either provide information on their work search activity, or attest that they are self-employed or still connected with their employer.

Prior to the requirement being reinstated, the Department will post screenshots of what the additional weekly certification page will look like on its website and identify the questions claimants will be required to answer.

All unemployment claimants required to actively search for work must create an account on the Maine JobLink: joblink.maine.gov. JobLink is a free job search tool, where claimants can upload their resumes and employers can post their job openings.

In anticipation of this requirement, MDOL is holding virtual JobLink workshops twice a week, at 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. These workshops walk participants through how to create and use a JobLink account.

More information on how to register for a workshop can be found at mainecareercenter.com/employment/workshops.shtml

Those who are still connected to an employer are not required to actively search for other work until after September 5. However, they must still be able and available to work for that employer if recalled.

If an employer has offered work to an employee and that employee refused the work, the employer should notify the Department. A fact-finding would be held to determine if there was good cause for the refusal of work. If no good cause is determined, then the claimant would no longer be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Employers can report refusals of work here: maine.gov/unemployment/ucbr/