Dept. of Labor to update unemployment benefits for self-employed, other PUA recipients

Thu, 07/23/2020 - 9:00am

AUGUSTA — The Maine Department of Labor is ready to update the weekly benefit payments for Maine people currently enrolled in the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, according to a news release.

This involves matching current tax information to individual claims to pay Maine people their full benefit, retroactive to the date of their PUA eligibility. This will happen in two phases.

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 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 upload any information.

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 claim was filed before or after June 1.

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

Phase 1: Beginning this week, MDOL will automatically match 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. More information on the second phase will be available next week. Information will also be posted on the Department’s website: maine.gov/unemployment.

Reminder: The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, or the additional weekly $600, ends with benefit payments for the week ending July 25.

Once redeterminations are made, claimants will receive a new monetary determination letter in the mail 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.

“Although the economy is showing gradual improvement, we know that too many people continue to struggle,” Commissioner Laura Fortman said. “This increase will provide some financial relief for those who have been waiting for their full benefit amount.”

Between March 15 and July 18, the Maine Department of Labor has paid out over $1.17 billion in federal and state unemployment benefits. By comparison, the Department paid out less than $74 million in unemployment benefits in all of 2019.