December 31, 2020
For Immediate Release: December 31, 2020
Claims for Unemployment Compensation, Week Ending December 26
AUGUSTA - For the week ending December 26, the Maine Department of Labor recorded about 2,700 initial claims filed for state unemployment insurance, and 1,800 initial claims filed for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). In total, approximately 3,300 people were filing an initial claim or reopening their unemployment claim.
About 13,400 weekly certifications, or continued claims, were filed last week for state unemployment, with another 16,500 weekly certifications filed under PUA. In addition, about 10,500 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.
Between March 15 and December 26, the Maine Department of Labor has paid out over $1.7 billion in federal and state unemployment benefits.
The Department has handled approximately 216,500 initial claims for the state unemployment program and 105,200 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 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.
Maine Dept. of Labor Working to Implement New Federal Unemployment Legislation:
The President has signed the bipartisan COVID-19 relief legislation, which extends the federal unemployment programs Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), and the Maine Department of Labor is reviewing the legislation and working to implement the changes as quickly as possible.
8The 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 temporarily.
Based on federal guidance, the first payable week of the PUA and PEUC extension is week ending January 2. While there will be no break in benefit accrual or eligibility, there may be a brief break in benefit payment for some claimants. The Department is preparing to process benefits for people who were actively filing and receiving PUA/PEUC when the programs ended on Dec. 26 and who had not yet fully drawn the benefits for those programs.
The legislation was signed on Dec. 27. Since these are federal unemployment programs, states must receive guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor before they can fully implement the changes and payments for all of the programs.
Having weekly certifications already on file will ensure that payments can be made to eligible individuals as soon as the federal changes are implemented.
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.
Updates will be posted to MDOLs website: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/ .
Reminder: Earned Paid Leave Law Goes into Effect January 1
Maines new Earned Paid Leave Law, which ensures employees of businesses with more than 10 employees can earn up to 40 hours of annual paid leave, goes into effect on January 1, 2021.
Maine is the first state to permit using this leave for reasons outside of illness, as long as employees give their employer reasonable notice. Gov. Janet Mills signed the Earned Paid Leave Law in May 2019, after working with a diverse group of stakeholders to create a consensus to support Maine workers who lacked paid leave. It received strong bipartisan support in the Legislature and an endorsement from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.
The Earned Paid Leave Law applies to employers with more than 10 workers in Maine for 120 days or more in a calendar year, except for seasonal industries as defined in the statute. Employers covered by the law must provide employees with one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours they work, up to a maximum of 40 hours of paid leave per year.
MDOL held 10 public listening sessions last fall on the law prior to the formal rulemaking process. It also held a virtual public hearing and received written comments on the draft Rules, responses to which have been posted online.
More information: https://www.maine.gov/labor/labor_laws/earnedpaidleave/
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 26, the Department cancelled 1,472 initial claims and 1 weekly certification 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 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/