Labor officials provide updates on unemployment benefits, lost wage assistance, benefits fraud

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 9:30am

    AUGUSTA — For the week ending September 26, the Maine Department of Labor recorded about 1,600 initial claims filed for state unemployment insurance, and 1,200 initial claims filed for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), according to a news release. 

    These claims represent about 2,300 individuals filing an initial claim.

    About 24,400 weekly certifications, or continued claims, were filed last week for state unemployment, with another 17,900 weekly certifications filed under PUA. In addition, about 10,700 weekly certifications were filed for the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program and 900 weekly certifications were filed for the state Extended Benefits program. Weekly certifications must be filed by claimants every week in order to continue to receive unemployment benefits.

    Between March 15 and September 26, the Maine Department of Labor has paid out over $1.57 billion in federal and state unemployment benefits.

    The Department has handled approximately 188,800 initial claims for the state unemployment program and 92,800 initial claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. There have been over 2.4 million weekly certifications filed.

    Fraud Update

    The Maine Department of Labor continues its careful review of all claims as it investigates unemployment imposter fraud, per the news release. 

    During the week ending September 26, the Department canceled about 23,600 initial claims and one weekly certification determined to be fraudulent.

    These cancelled claims are the culmination of initial claims that were identified as potentially fraudulent. The Department holds potentially fraudulent claims and gives individuals the opportunity to verify their identity. These canceled claims represent a periodic cancellation of claims for which no appropriate identification could be provided.

    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 U.S. Department of Justice has put out an Unemployment Insurance Consumer Fraud Protection Guide with information on unemployment fraud and what to do if you believe your information has been used to file a fraudulent claim.  

    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.

    Lost Wage Assistance Program Update

    The Department, according to the release, continues to evaluate people’s eligibility for the LWA program, and release retroactive payments to those newly determined eligible at least once a week.

    LWA payments are released separately from regular unemployment benefit payments. Once payments are released, the timeframe in which an individual receives the payment depends on their individual financial institution’s deposit policies.

    Maine was approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) the night of August 25 for Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) funding, which provides retroactive $300 to eligible Mainers for the weeks ending August 1 to September 5.

    FEMA has announced that all states approved for LWA funding receive funds to cover those six weeks, and then the program ends.

    The Department issued the first round of LWA payments, covering the weeks ending August 1, 8, and 15, the night of September 11. The second round of payments, covering weeks ending August 22, 29, and September 5, were issued September 16.

    The Department also continues to send out correspondence to those who need to answer additional questions in order to determine eligibility for LWA. Everyone who is found to be eligible will receive retroactive payments.

    If someone had already received LWA payments for which they are eligible, and also received the correspondence, they should still complete the additional question to ensure they receive all payments for which they are eligible.

    Individuals are eligible for Lost Wages Assistance if they are eligible for unemployment benefits; they are eligible for a weekly benefit of at least $100; they are unemployed, or are partially unemployed, as a direct result of the COVID-19.

    Eligibility for LWA is determined on a week-by-week basis. Someone may be eligible for some of the covered weeks, but not others.