May 7, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 7, 2020
Claims for Unemployment Compensation, Week Ending May 2
AUGUSTA - A total of 16,100 people filed initial claims for unemployment benefits in the week ending May 2, up from 7,400 the prior week.
About 10,500 of those claims can be attributed to the implementation of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program included in the CARES Act passed by Congress. The remaining 5,600 claims were for state unemployment insurance benefits, a decrease of 1,900 from the previous week.
The Department of Labor began taking PUA claims on May 1. PUA includes benefits for those who are self-employed and others who are not covered under the regular state unemployment insurance program. The 10,500 PUA claims are those that were filed May 1-2. Thousands more applied after May 2, which will be reflected in next week's data. There are also over 12,000 claims not included in these numbers, those who had already applied before PUA was available and were not eligible for state unemployment benefits. These are automatically being rolled into PUA this week. PUA payments, including any retroactive payments, will start going out this week.
Approximately 76,300 weekly certifications, or continued claims, were filed last week for state unemployment, an increase of 3,400. In addition, 49,700 weekly certifications were filed under PUA for retroactive benefits. Weekly certifications are the forms filed by claimants every week in order to continue to receive benefits. The Department paid out $59.3 million in unemployment benefits during the week ending May 2. This would have been for the weeks ending April 25 or earlier. Since March 15, the Department has paid out over $240 million in benefits.
"In addition to the 10,500 new applicants for PUA, the people who applied and were denied for state unemployment benefits are being automatically transferred to PUA. People in this category will receive an email and letter confirming that they are eligible under PUA and what their next steps should be," Commissioner Laura Fortman said. This is a milestone step in getting unemployment benefits to Mainers who were not previously eligible.
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 began accepting applications for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program Friday, May 1. People whose claim does not require further review should begin receiving benefits within 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 https://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 https://www.maine.gov/labor/contact/ . The Department has also created a phone line specifically for PUA questions and claims, available from 8 a.m.- 3 p.m. Monday-Friday: 1-888-413-0820.
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 Departments COVID-19 page: https://www.maine.gov/labor/covid19/
Follow the Maine Department of Labor on Facebook @MElabor and Twitter @maine_labor.