AUGUSTA, Maine — The number of initial unemployment claims in Maine was nearly 34 times higher last week than it had been the week prior, as the state and nation deal with businesses shutting down amid the coronavirus pandemic.


The Maine Department of Labor reported Thursday that there were 21,459 initial claims filed the week of March 15-21, compared to 634 initial claims the previous week. The data can be found at maine.gov/labor.


The most affected industry sectors were Accommodation and Food Services (7,965) and Health Care and Social Assistance (3,588), followed by Manufacturing (1,131) and Retail Trade (1,103), according to the Maine DOL.


Claims data is released each Thursday for the previous week, so the data posted Thursday reflects claims filed during the week that ended March 21. These are preliminary figures that will be revised in the near future to include additional claims that are retroactively effective for last week.


"We, along with the rest of the country, are doing everything we can to respond to this historic number of unemployment claims and the questions that come with them," Maine DOL Commissioner Laura Fortman said. "We know that the partial wage replacement that unemployment benefits provide is a lifeline for families, as well as an economic stabilizer for our local communities in these uncertain times."


It usually takes about two to three weeks from the date of an initial claim for the claimant to receive a first unemployment payment, according to the Maine DOL website. That assumes there are no potentially disqualifying issues to be addressed. If a fact-finding interview is needed, claimants who are allowed benefits will receive funds after they are notified by mail of the decision.


The first eligible week claimed is considered a waiting period week, and no payment is made for that week, but a claim must be filed to receive credit for that waiting week, according to the Maine DOL website.


Nationwide, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial unemployment claims was 3,283,000 last week, an increase of more than 3 million compared to a week prior, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.


"This marks the highest level of seasonally adjusted initial claims in the history of the seasonally adjusted series," the U.S. DOL said in a news release Thursday. The previous high was 695,000 in October 1982.


"This large increase in unemployment claims was not unexpected, and results from the recognition by Americans across the country that we have had to temporarily halt certain activities in order to defeat the coronavirus," U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia said in a statement.


"The hard impact of this on American workers was anticipated in the bill passed by the Senate last night, which provides hundreds of billions of dollars in unprecedented funding for traditional unemployment insurance and pandemic unemployment assistance."


The bill also provides one-time cash payments of $1,200 or more to Americans making $75,000 or less, $150,000 for those who are married.


"Perhaps more important," Scalia added, "the Senate bill also provides incentives and funding for businesses to keep their workers on payroll, so that, as soon as possible, we can spring back to the strong economic conditions we enjoyed just weeks ago."


Maine DOL’s Unemployment Insurance Program provides partial wage replacement for workers who experience job layoff, loss or reduction in hours through no fault of their own. Those who are unsure if they are eligible for unemployment benefits are encouraged to apply. Maine DOL will review information provided by both the applicant and the employer to make a case-by-case determination about eligibility. It is best to apply online, using a computer; the system is available 24/7 at maine.gov/unemployment.


To apply by phone, call 1-800-593-7660 between 8 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. Because so many Mainers have been impacted, the phone queue fills quickly. Maine DOL encourages people to keep trying. For simple questions or for password resets, you can also call your nearest CareerCenter.


For more information and resources, visit the Department’s COVID-19 page: maine.gov/labor/covid19, and follow the Maine DOL on Facebook, @MElabor, and Twitter @maine_labor.


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