Fewer jobless workers filed unemployment claims in Maine in the previous week, even as tens of thousands of others in the state brace for the loss of their extended benefits.
The Maine Department of Labor says there were about 1,900 new claims for unemployment benefits and 725 new claims for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for the week ending November 28. That's a drop of about 320 applicants from the previous week, the agency reported.
The state's unemployment rate has also been edging down, dropping to 5.4% in October after adding about 1,600 jobs, according to state labor data.
Maine has paid out more than $1.6 billion in federal and state unemployment benefits since mid-March, when the COVID-19 outbreak began.
Like many states, Maine has tapped into federal CARES Act relief funds to extend unemployment benefits to jobless workers still impacted by the economic fallout of the virus.
Federal programs have extended jobless benefits to those who normally don’t qualify, such as the self-employed and “gig economy” workers, as well as those who’ve used up the typical 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits.
But those benefits, which offer an additional 13 weeks worth of benefits after jobless workers use up their allotted six months of benefits, are set to expire in about three weeks.
On Thursday, Maine's Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman wrote to U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and other members of the state's congressional delegation calling on them to push for extending federal unemployment programs under CARES Act, which are set to expire on Dec. 26.
“We are urging Congress to take action and take steps to help support Maine businesses and laid off workers as they continue to navigate the challenges created by this unprecedented public health and economic crisis,” she wrote.
Fortman said she was “deeply concerned” about the more than 35,000 Mainers who stand to lose unemployment benefits when the CARES Act funding dries up.
“None of us could have guessed how long the COVID-19 crisis would last, but we are now coming up against the time when these same people are going to suddenly lose their unemployment benefits,” she wrote. “This second round of financial loss will be devastating for Maine people and for Maine's economy.”
In Washington, a new coronavirus relief proposal co-sponsored by Collins and several other moderate GOP senators would provide another $180 billion to states to extend jobless benefits.
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