May 14, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 14, 2020
Claims for Unemployment Compensation, Week Ending May 9
AUGUSTA - A total of about 21,000 unemployment initial claims were filed in the week ending May 9, down from 26,600 the prior week. About 11,500 of those claims are identified as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program claims.
In order to receive PUA, claimants must not be eligible for regular state unemployment benefits. In order to meet these requirements and ensure individuals receive benefits, some individuals have their application processed twice, once for state unemployment eligibility and once for eligibility under federal PUA. The total number of initial claims filed through the state unemployment and through PUA is higher than the actual total number of individuals filing claims. MDOL will provide a more detailed breakdown in the coming weeks.
The Department of Labor began accepting applications for PUA on May 1. PUA is a new federal program which expands eligibility for unemployment benefits to people not typically eligible to receive unemployment in the past and are directly affected by COVID-19, such as those who are self-employed and who do not have enough earnings to be eligible for state unemployment.
Approximately 87,000 weekly certifications, or continued claims, were filed last week for state unemployment, an increase of 10,700 over the previous week. In addition, 41,000 weekly certifications were filed under PUA, including for retroactive benefit weeks. Weekly certifications are the forms that must be filed by claimants every week in order to continue to receive unemployment benefits.
Since March 15, the Department has paid out over $400 million in unemployment benefits.
"With the implementation of the new federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program on May 1, thousands of Mainers who were not previously eligible for unemployment benefits are now receiving funds to help them support themselves and their families," Commissioner Laura Fortman said. 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 .
Benefit payments are retroactive. The additional weekly $600 created by the new Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program is retroactive to the week ending April 4 and is available through July 25, 2020.
The initial PUA payment is $172 per week for all claimants (50% of Maine's average weekly unemployment benefit). In the coming weeks, the Department will be sending emails to those who are self-employed with instructions on how to upload any needed tax documentation, so that benefits can be adjusted if needed. All claimants must file their weekly certifications every week in order to receive benefits.
The ReEmployME system is working as designed and processing an unprecedented number of claims. With the implementation of PUA, the Department set up a second phone line specifically for these claims and questions, in addition to the regular 1-800 phone line. The Department has been talking to about 1,800 people a day by phone.
If you have not yet applied, you can do so at https://www.maine.gov/unemployment . Click on the ReEmployME icon in the bottom left of the page. You will be prompted to create a claimant account, after which you can submit an unemployment claim and file your weekly certifications. Dont forget to verify your email address and sign up for direct deposit. There is no separate application for PUA. The application process will make the determination of whether you are eligible for state or PUA benefits based on your answers to questions. PUA benefits are available to anyone who is self-employed and does not receive W2 wages, regardless of the profitability of your business.
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.
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.