AUGUSTA – Last week, approximately 7,400 new individuals filed for unemployment benefits. This is the lowest number of initial claims in the last six weeks, but the level remains historically high.
In total, nearly 73,000 people filed their weekly certification, and the Maine Department of Labor paid out $59.7 million in unemployment benefits for the week ending April 25, according to an April 30 news release.
This included payments of the weekly additional $600 created by the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program.
Since March 15, the Department has paid over $200 million in benefits to eligible Mainers.
“Initial unemployment claims have now declined for three consecutive weeks. While we expect a surge in new claims later this week, this is due to the implementation of the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, not an indication that additional people are losing their employment,” Commissioner Laura Fortman said, in the release. “The PUA program was created to be a strong stabilizing force for those not typically eligible for unemployment benefits.”
Continued claims for the week totaled 72,900, the highest number on record and more than twice the peak number in early 2009 during the last recession. Continued claims are up from 66,500 the prior week.
The largest number of claims in the six weeks were in food services and lodging, healthcare and social assistance, retail trade, manufacturing, and entertainment and recreation sectors.
There have been about 108,500 initial claims in the past six weeks (from March 15 to April 25), matching the total for the previous 147 weeks through March 14 (nearly three years).
Data on initial and continued claims, benefits paid, contributions received, the balance of the unemployment insurance trust fund, as well as other information, is available at https://www.maine.gov/labor/cwri/ui.html.
The Maine Department of Labor will begin accepting applications for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program at 8 a.m. Friday, May 1. People whose claim does not require further review should begin receiving benefits with seven days of filing.
PUA is a new federal program which expands eligibility for unemployment benefits to certain categories of workers not typically able to receive unemployment in the past, such as those who are self-employed and who do not have enough earnings to be eligible for state unemployment.
To apply, claimants under PUA should do the following:
A. If you have already applied for benefits and been denied due to insufficient earnings, do NOT reapply. Your claim is in the system and will automatically transfer to PUA. Continue filing your weekly certification.
B. If you are self-employed, filed a claim before PUA became available and received a denial; you, do not need to refile an initial PUA claim, you will be enrolled in PUA but will need to file weekly PUA claims. If you have any outstanding weekly claims to be filed, these will be identified on your PUA monetary determination and you will be advised to file those claims. The system will allow you to file for the weeks noted.
C. If you are self-employed and have not yet filed a claim, visit www.maine.gov/unemployment and fill out the streamlined application form for PUA. Submit your weekly certification each week thereafter.
D. If you are NOT self-employed and have not yet filed an initial claim under any unemployment program, you need to file a regular unemployment claim first to determine if you are eligible. If you are determined ineligible, your claim will be automatically converted to a PUA claim.
The Department of Labor recommends that people file their claims online with a computer as opposed to a smartphone and do so in the evening when internet traffic is less. The Department has implemented an alphabetical call in schedule to help reduce phone line congestion as the Department ramps up its capacity to receive and process claims. Last names beginning with A-H should call on Monday, I-Q on Tuesday; and R-Z on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday are left unassigned for those who miss their alphabetical day or need to call at that time.
As the Department continues to expand the number of people taking calls, the call-in hours have been extended to 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. Those who are unable to connect with a claims representative by calling 1-800-593-7660 before 3 p.m. Monday through Friday should submit a message at www.maine.gov/labor/contact.
The Department of Labor continues to implement solutions to the challenges created by the sudden and unprecedented levels of questions and claims to meet the needs of Maine people. Claims staff are working over the weekend to process applications and are contacting claimants who have errors on their applications. The department has also contracted with a Maine-based center to provide first level claims assistance. Starting this week, 100 people are answering calls, up from 14 a month ago. The online unemployment system, which Maine implemented a few years ago, is performing as designed and is available 24/7.
Claims data is released each Thursday at 8:30 a.m.
For more information and resources, visit the Department’s COVID-19 page: https://www.maine.gov/labor/covid19/
Follow the Maine Department of Labor on Facebook @MElabor and Twitter @maine_labor.