Department of Labor to Accept Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Applications May 1

April 28, 2020

AUGUSTA - The Maine Department of Labor will begin accepting applications for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) at 8 a.m. Friday, May 1. People whose claim does not require further review should begin receiving benefits within seven days of filing.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is a new federal program which expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits to certain categories of workers not typically able to receive unemployment in the past, such as:

Self-employed workers

Farmers/Fishermen

Independent contractors

Nonprofit employees not already covered by regular state unemployment benefits

Gig economy workers

Workers who do not have enough work history and earnings to be eligible for traditional unemployment benefits

Others who have been determined ineligible for regular unemployment benefits

"These uncertain times have been particularly difficult for our small businesses and self-employed Mainers. I know that waiting for unemployment benefits has been a challenge for many, but help is on the way," Commissioner Laura Fortman said. Standing up a completely new unemployment program is complex, and our team worked diligently to get this done. The final federal guidelines were received last night, and I am pleased to announce that we will begin accepting PUA applications later this week. People whose claim doesn't require further review should begin receiving benefits within seven days from filing. All claims will be retroactive to the date of business closure or job separation provided on the application, back until March 15. If work was lost earlier than that due to COVID-19, claimants will be able to provide documentation to show that in the near future.

Claimants filing for PUA will be asked to self-attest to their earnings in either 2018 or 2019 when they file their claim. The federal Office of the Inspector General has advised that this program will be subject to rigorous audits, and so the Department asks that claimants provide accurate information to the best of their ability.

PUA benefits start at 50% of the average weekly state unemployment benefit for self-employed and those who do not meet monetary eligibility for regular unemployment. This is $172/week. If you are self-employed, once we are able to verify documented earnings, PUA benefits will be adjusted retroactively. The maximum benefit available under PUA is $445/week.

In addition, anyone who receives a PUA benefit also receives the full $600 additional weekly benefit from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, which is available through July 25, 2020. Claimants will also need to file a certification every week in order to receive benefits.

To expedite the benefits process, claimants are not required at this time to send the Department paper or electronic copies of documents showing their earnings. The Department will let claimants know later in May when these documents should be uploaded to finalize their claims.

Claimants under PUA should do the following:

No action needed - Claimants who have been denied unemployment benefits due to not having enough earnings to qualify for state benefits do not need to reapply. Their claim in the system will automatically process.

Claim must be updated - Those who are self-employed and who attempted to file for unemployment benefits before PUA was implemented must log-in to their online unemployment account and update their claim with their self-attestation of earnings.

Claim must be filed - All others eligible for PUA but who had yet not filed a claim will should visit https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/ and fill out the new streamlined application form for PUA. Submit your weekly certification each week thereafter.

More information on PUA and instructions on how to apply can be found on MDOL's website: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/pua/ .

Since March 15, the Department has paid out benefits to over 70,000 people, totaling about $200 million dollars.

Those with a question about their existing claim can leave a message at https://www.maine.gov/labor/contact/ , or call 1-800-593-7660. Those who are locked out of their account because they need their password reset should live-chat with a CareerCenter at https://www.mainecareercenter.gov .

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 extended hours, as well as on Saturdays and holidays, to process applications and contact claimants.

The Department has also contracted with a Maine-based call center to provide claims assistance. About 100 people are answering calls, up from 13 a month ago. The online unemployment system is performing as designed and is available 24/7.

The Department of Labor recommends that people file their claims online, using a computer as opposed to a smartphone, if possible. The Department has also implemented an alphabetical call in schedule to help reduce phone line congestion to manage capacity to receive and process claims.

Claimants with last names beginning with A-H should call on Monday, I-Q on Tuesday; and R-Z on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday are available for those who miss their alphabetical day or need to call at that time.

To apply for unemployment:

https://www.maine.gov/unemployment 1-800-593-7660 between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday-Friday For password resets and basic questions through a CareerCenter:

https://www.mainecareercenter.gov/locations/index.shtml For more information and resources, visit the Departments COVID-19 page:

https://www.maine.gov/labor/covid19/ Follow the Maine Department of Labor on Facebook @MElabor and Twitter @maine_labor.