February 2, 2012
Augusta – A steady decline in Maine’s unemployment rate has led to Maine being removed from the federal designated list of “high unemployment states.” While the move represents more welcome news of an improving economy, the U.S. Department of Labor notified the state this week that long-term unemployed workers will no longer be eligible for up to 13 weeks federally-funded unemployment provided under the Extended Benefits (EB) program.
“Our unemployment rate dropped during 2011 and jobless claims for benefits were lower in 11 of the last 12 months as compared to the same time the year before,” said Maine Labor Commissioner Robert Winglass. “Although seasonal factors will continue to play a role in the job market from month to month, overall workforce conditions are improving.”
The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Maine was 7.0 percent in December - down from 7.5 percent one year ago, and significantly lower than the U.S. unemployment rate of 8.5 percent. Nearly 3,000 more Mainers were employed in December compared with the same period in 2010 and the number of unemployed dropped by 3,800.
Federal EB benefits are available to workers in high unemployment states, but only after they have exhausted all regular unemployment insurance benefits and the up to 47 weeks of federally-funded unemployment benefits provided under the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program.
For the approximately 1,850 Maine workers who may be eligible for unemployment under the EB program, the last payable week for benefits will be the week ending February 18, 2012.
“EB represents the final weeks of benefits for the longest-term unemployed,” said Laura Boyett, director of the Maine Department of Labor Bureau of Unemployment Compensation. “Generally, the workers who are receiving unemployment under EB have already collected up to 73 weeks of benefits under other state and federal unemployment programs.”
Maine CareerCenters have ramped up outreach to workers who are expected to lose benefits as the result of the end of EB unemployment in Maine. Workers are being encouraged to visit CareerCenters to attend employment workshops and utilize Maine's Job Bank.
“CareerCenters are an important resource for people looking for a new job, their first job, or a different career,” said Commissioner Winglass. “Over 3,300 available Maine jobs are posted now on Maine’s Job Bank and our staff are committed to helping connect job seekers to those employment opportunities in all corners of the state.”
State labor officials are also closely monitoring the status of federal legislation concerning the federal EUC benefits. Approximately 8,500 Maine workers are currently receiving benefits under the program today. EUC is paid in three tiers in Maine. Tier One EUC is the first 20 weeks of benefits, Tier Two provides 14 weeks of benefits, and Tier Three represents the final 13 weeks of EUC unemployment. Not all workers qualify for the full 47 weeks of EUC benefits.
Legislation signed into law in December provided a temporary extension of the EUC program through March 6, 2012. Without congressional action to keep the program in place, the program will begin to phase out over the spring and summer.
Additional information about Maine unemployment programs can be found on the Maine Unemployment website at www.file4ui.com.