December 23, 2020
For Immediate Release: December 23, 2020
Claims for Unemployment Compensation, Week Ending December 19
AUGUSTA - For the week ending December 19, the Maine Department of Labor recorded about 2,950 initial claims filed for state unemployment insurance, and 1,900 initial claims filed for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). In total, approximately 3,700 people were filing an initial claim or reopening their unemployment claim.
About 14,300 weekly certifications, or continued claims, were filed last week for state unemployment, with another 18,200 weekly certifications filed under PUA. In addition, about 12,300 weekly certifications were filed for the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. Weekly certifications must be filed by claimants every week in order to continue to receive unemployment benefits.
Maine's typically sees increases in state unemployment claims this time of year due to seasonal layoffs that occur every winter, such as in accommodations, eating and drinking places, construction, landscaping, and temporary help. Some of these industries have seen increased impact due to COVID-19. The majority of the new PUA initial claims and weekly certifications are due to claimants filing for PUA after exhausting their state Extended or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits.
Between March 15 and December 19, the Maine Department of Labor has paid out over $1.7 billion in federal and state unemployment benefits.
The Department has handled approximately 214,000 initial claims for the state unemployment program and 103,400 initial claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. There have been over 3 million weekly certifications filed.
Claims data is preliminary and subject to revision. Claims data can be found here: https://www.maine.gov/labor/cwri/ui.html
CareerCenter services - https://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/MEDOL/bulletins/2aa7228?fbclid=IwAR1phq7T51IZVDHcboJ4A2KOY7DKEE22YAiBCYaFT1iAz9u-m7FI4aX1k are available to help people identify and take next their steps. It is a requirement that those receiving unemployment insurance benefits also be registered on the Maine JobLink, which includes a weekly newsletter for job seekers highlighting opportunities and training.
Pending Federal Unemployment Extensions:
The federal unemployment programs Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) were scheduled to end on December 26, unless Congress took action.
We are reviewing the recent legislation that was passed by Congress, which must be signed by the President before it can be implemented. The Department is carefully monitoring any subsequent actions by Congress, the President as well as the U.S. Department of Labor so that we can implement any extension of unemployment insurance programs as quickly as possible.
The Department urges claimants who are still unemployed and receiving benefits under the federal programs to continue to file weekly certifications, even though they may see "no active claim" on their claim summary screen after December 26. This will ensure that when the Department is able to implement the programs approved by Congress, we can release payments to you for the weeks you are eligible for. Please continue to check the website for updates as well: www.maine.gov/unemployment.
Top-line unemployment takeaways from the new legislation are as follows:
Extension of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
- Will provide up to an additional 11 weeks of benefits, to a maximum of 50 weeks.
- Claimants will be required to provide documentation of eligibility to qualify for PUA beginning Jan. 31, 2021.
- PUA will be available until week ending March 13, 2021 (no new applications after that date). Anyone already in the PUA program by that date who has not exhausted their benefits can continue through April 3.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) - Will provide up to an additional 11 weeks of benefits, to a maximum of 24 weeks. - PEUC will be available until week ending March 13, 2021 (no new applications after that date). Anyone already in the PEUC program by that date who has not exhausted their benefits can continue through April 3. Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) - Will provide up to 11 weeks of an additional $300 weekly benefit to eligible claimants. - A claimant must be eligible for an unemployment program (state unemployment, PUA, PEUC) to receive FPUC. - Once implemented, FPUC will be available to cover weeks of unemployment between Dec. 27, 2020 and week ending March 13, 2021.
The Department will work to implement any federal changes to unemployment programs as quickly as possible after they are passed into law. Those who have been receiving benefits under the federal programs should continue to file their weekly certifications, so that payments can be made to eligible individuals as soon as possible.
Reminder: Maine's Minimum Wage to Increase to $12.15 Per Hour in 2021
Effective January 1, 2021, the state minimum wage will increase from $12 to $12.15 per hour.
This increase is pursuant to Maine law (Maine statute 26 MRS 664), which requires annual adjustments to the minimum wage by the cost of living index (CPI-W) beginning in 2021. This follows $1 annual increases to the minimum wage each of the past three years.
In addition to the minimum wage itself, the Department has calculated the new tip wage, or service employee minimum wage, in 2021 to be $6.08 per hour. This means that service employees must receive at least a direct cash wage of $6.08 per hour from the employer. The employer must be able to show that the employee receives at least the minimum wage of $12.15 per hour when the direct wage and tips are combined at the end of the week. Maines laws state that tips are the property of the employee and tip pooling arrangements can only include service employees. More information on the service employee minimum wage can be found here: Minimum Wage and Overtime - http://legislature.maine.gov/statutes/26/title26sec664.html
The minimum salary threshold for exempting a worker from overtime pay is also based on the minimum wage. Starting January 1, 2021, the new minimum salary threshold is $700.97 per week, or $36,450 per year. This is only one of the factors used in determining whether a worker is exempt from overtime pay under federal or state law. The duties of each worker must be considered as part of this analysis. The law can be found here - http://legislature.maine.gov/legis/statutes/26/title26sec664.html .
More information can be found here: https://www.maine.gov/labor/labor_laws/wagehour.html .
The Maine Department of Labor continues its careful review of all claims as it investigates unemployment imposter fraud. During the week ending December 19, the Department cancelled 122 initial claims and 3 weekly certifications that were determined to be fraudulent. Unemployment imposter fraud is when a person's Personally Identifiable Information, or PII, is stolen and used illegally to apply for unemployment benefits. Maine is one of many U.S. states working in close collaboration with state and federal law enforcement and regulatory agencies to investigate and prevent it.
The Maine Department of Labor is also warning unemployment claimants and adding extra security measures to protect beneficiaries from fraudulent email "phishing" scams in which bad actors steal usernames and passwords, use them to log into unemployment accounts, and change the payment information.
The Department was notified by the U.S. Department of Labor of scams happening across the country and is taking proactive action to review and prevent impact on Maine claimants. The Department has also received reports of phishing attempts in Maine.
Some phishing attempts mimicked the Maine Department of Labor and provided a link to reset a password, or a link to look at recent account activity.
The Department will never send a password reset email that wasn't requested by the individual. If someone did not request a reset and receives one of these emails, they should immediately delete the email and not respond. If they receive an email requesting they look at the recent activity in their account, they should not click on any links in the email, and instead go straight to their account.
Claimants log-in information could also be potentially obtained by criminals if someone uses the same log-in information for multiple websites and that log-in information is compromised. The Department strongly recommends that claimants use a password that is unique to their unemployment account and is not used for anything else.
The Department continues to evolve its fraud prevention techniques and is adding extra authentication technology to the ReEmployME system. The Department is temporarily holding several hundred claims while awaiting additional verification from the individuals. Individuals whose claims are on hold will be notified by email to call 1-800-593-7660 for further guidance.
What unemployment claimants should do to protect themselves:
- Before filing their next weekly certification, they should go to Benefits Maintenance > Payment Options to verify their current payment information and update as needed.
- Click on the link in Benefits Maintenance to verify their email address. This will generate an email with instructions on how to complete the process.
- After verifying their email, the Department recommends changing their password to one that is not being used in any other online system. They will need to verify their email account before creating a new password by hitting forgot password on the log-in page. This will also generate an email within which they will need to click on a link. Passwords should not be shared with anyone.
- Unsolicited emails about resetting passwords should be immediately deleted.
- If unemployment benefit payments for prior weeks filed appear to have been redirected to a bank account that is not theirs, they should contact the Department. The U.S. Department of Justice has put out an Unemployment Insurance Consumer Fraud Protection Guide - https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/docs/2020/USDOJUIFraudConsumerProtectionGuideFinal.pdf with information on unemployment fraud and what to do if you believe your information has been used to file a fraudulent claim.
The Department encourages anyone who believes that someone else has used their or their employees personal information to file a fraudulent unemployment application to notify the Department immediately using this form: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/idtheft/
Work Search Related Activities Requirement:
Weekly work search related activity requirements are in effect for all unemployment claimants. The only exception is for individuals in medical quarantine due to potential COVID-19 exposure.
Self-employed individuals need to attest to engaging in activities designed to fully reopen their business. In response to the circumstances caused by the pandemic, the Department expanded possible work search activities to include opportunities to enhance individual's marketability during these challenging economic times.
Work search activities include: - Attending a job fair/virtual job fair hosted by a CareerCenter - Participating in CareerCenter virtual reemployment services - Participating in a CareerCenter virtual workshop - Applying for a job for which you are reasonably qualified - Interviewing for a job for which you are reasonably qualified - Contacting an employer to inquire as to whether the employer is hiring - Participating in professional job-related education or skills development - Participating in networking events related to a job or occupation for which you are reasonably qualified - Working part-time
For example, some resources through the Maine State Library count as a work search activity. Below are brief descriptions of the services and links to them on the Digital Maine Library.
Learning Express Library: https://libraries.maine.edu/mainedatabases/authmaine.asp?db=lel
- Career Preparation includes: exploring new careers, including health care and green jobs; preparing for career exams, such as nursing assistant or real estate salesperson
- Computer Skills includes everything from basic computer operation to specific Microsoft software
- Adult Core Skills are geared at improving math and reading skills
Pronunciator: https://libraries.maine.edu/mainedatabases/authmaine.asp?db=pll - Learning a second language can be useful personally and professionally
Petersons Career Prep: https://libraries.maine.edu/mainedatabases/authmaine.asp?db=pcp
- Resume development
- Career exploration
- Other job-related guidance
Minimize Risk of Overpayments:
The Department would like to remind claimants that failure to participate in work search related activities will likely result in overpayments, which may need to be repaid by the claimant. Overpayments of funds paid through the PUA program cannot be waived.
If an individual has not participated in work search related activities for more than one week, the Department will contact them to ask why they didnt complete a work search activity. This is called a fact-finding interview. They can choose to do this by completing a questionnaire sent to them, or over the phone with a department representative. Based on this fact-finding interview, the Department will determine if they were eligible for benefits for that week. If benefits were already paid for a week but they were later denied as a result of this review, the benefits for that week may have to be repaid to MDOL.
All claimants are also required to be registered on the Maine JobLink, a free job search tool, where claimants can upload their resumes and employers can post their job openings: https://joblink.maine.gov/ada/r/
The CareerCenters hold frequent virtual workshops on how to use the Maine JobLink. To register any of the CareerCenter workshops, please visit: http://www.mainecareercenter.com/employment/workshops.shtml
People can also call their local CareerCenter to schedule a 1:1 appointment with a CareerCenter Consultant to explore work search activity options specific to the persons individual needs.
More information, videos, and answers to frequently asked questions on the work search requirement can be found at: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/faq/worksearch/
If an employer has offered work to an employee and that employee refused the work, the employer should notify the Department. A fact-finding would be held to determine if there was good cause for the refusal of work. If no good cause is determined, then the claimant would no longer be eligible for unemployment benefits.
Employers can report refusals of work here: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/ucbr/