AUGUSTA — Mainers receiving unemployment benefits are now eligible to receive 13 additional weeks of payments, if they exhaust their initial 26-week benefit period, per a news release.
This expansion of support is through the third and final new federal unemployment insurance program, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation or PEUC, which the Maine Department of Labor implemented Wednesday.
Those who had already exhausted their benefits and were waiting for PEUC to be implemented were temporarily being paid benefits through another federal program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and will now be automatically enrolled in PEUC.
“The Maine Department of Labor has reached another milestone and implemented the last of the new federal unemployment programs,” Commissioner Laura Fortman said. “However, there is still work to do, as we continue to take claims and pay benefits at extraordinary levels.”
The Department implemented the first two federal programs, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), on April 16 and May 1 respectively.
During this period of time, the Department’s responsiveness to the demand of unemployment claims was recognized as among the best in the nation, the news release stated, in a report by the Century Foundation.
Between March 15 and June 20, the Maine Department of Labor has seen roughly 162,000 initial claims for the state unemployment program and 72,400 initial claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
There have been about 1.4 million weekly certifications filed, and the Department has paid out more than $882 million in federal and state unemployment benefits, per the release.
Now that PEUC is implemented, the Department will automatically enroll those who already exhausted their benefits and were temporarily receiving PUA into the PEUC program.
When this occurs, these individuals will receive a PEUC determination both in the mail and through their unemployment account correspondence. Due to differences in the programs, the weekly benefit amount available through PEUC may be different from the weekly PUA benefit.
Going forward, those who exhaust their unemployment benefits before finding a new job will need to file a new initial claim in their ReEmployME account. As with the PUA program, the Department is required to ensure that each individual does not have eligibility for a new round of state unemployment benefits before paying the federal PEUC benefits. If denied for state unemployment benefits, the next weekly certification will include three additional questions in order to complete the PEUC enrollment.
As the economy gradually restarts, the Department notes that workers can have part-time employment and not lose unemployment benefits in their entirety. Workers who earn less than $5 over their weekly benefit amount remain eligible for partial unemployment benefits.
Plus, anyone who is receiving at least $1 in unemployment benefits will also remain eligible for the additional $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit through July 25.
The Department reminds all claimants to report any earnings they make in their weekly certification. If they are making partial earnings, the Department has a video that explains how to report those earnings: maine.gov/unemployment/covid19videos/index.shtml.
Employers are also encouraged to explore the WorkShare program, which helps businesses retain their workforce during temporary slowdown in work. The program allows employers to voluntarily reduce the hours of staff in lieu of layoffs.
Under WorkShare, employees may collect a partial unemployment benefit (including the extra federal $600 through July 25) to help them offset the loss of income. Information on WorkShare can be found on the Department’s website: maine.gov/unemployment/workshare/