Labor officials provide unemployment benefits update, roll out $300 federal benefit

Thu, 01/07/2021 - 9:30am

    AUGUSTA — For the week ending January 2, the Maine Department of Labor recorded about 3,900 initial claims filed for state unemployment insurance, and 250 initial claims filed for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

     In total, approximately 4,300 people were filing an initial claim or reopening their unemployment claim.

    About 15,400 weekly certifications, or continued claims, were filed last week for state unemployment, with another 16,000 weekly certifications filed under PUA. In addition, about 9,200 weekly certifications were filed for the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. Weekly certifications must be filed by claimants every week in order to continue to receive unemployment benefits.

    Maine typically, according to a news release, sees increases in state unemployment claims this time of year due to seasonal layoffs that occur every winter, such as in accommodations, eating and drinking places, construction, landscaping, and temporary help. Some of these industries have seen increased impact due to COVID-19.

    Between March 15 and January 2, the Maine Department of Labor has paid out over $1.7 billion in federal and state unemployment benefits.

    The Department has handled approximately 220,550 initial claims for the state unemployment program and 105,400 initial claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. There have been over three million weekly certifications filed.

    Maine Dept. of Labor Already Paying $300 Federal Benefits, Continuing to Work on Extensions

    On Dec. 27, bipartisan COVID-19 relief legislation was signed which extends the federal unemployment programs Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), as well as reinstates and modifies the supplemental weekly Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program.

    MDOL began issuing the additional $300 FPUC payments earlier this week to those receiving unemployment benefits. The first $300 payments were distributed with unemployment benefits for the week ending January 2. More than $8.6 million in FPUC was paid to Mainers January 4-5.

    Unemployment claimants who were receiving PUA or PEUC when the programs originally ended December 26 and still had weeks left of eligibility did not see an interruption in payments and have continued to be paid benefits, as well as FPUC, as long as they were otherwise eligible.

    While there is no break in benefit eligibility, there may be a brief break in benefit payment for some claimants.

    Claimants who had exhausted their PUA benefits including or prior to Dec. 26 and are eligible for benefits will begin receiving payments the week of January 10. Claimants who had exhausted their original PEUC benefits including or prior to Dec. 26 and are still eligible for benefits will begin receiving payments the week of January 17th. Eligible claimants will receive retroactive benefits, including FPUC, to week ending January 2.

    In order to be paid, they must have weekly certifications on file. The Department urges claimants who are still unemployed and receiving benefits under the federal programs to continue to file weekly certifications, even though they may see no active claim on their claim summary screen temporarily. Having weekly certifications already on file will ensure that payments can be made to eligible individuals as soon as federal changes are implemented.

    Fraud Update

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

    During the week ending January 2, the Department cancelled 134 initial claims and five 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 Maine Department of Labor is also warning unemployment claimants and adding extra security measures to protect beneficiaries from fraudulent email "phishing" scams” in which bad actors steal usernames and passwords, use them to log into unemployment accounts, and change the payment information.