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Maine Unemployment Claims Soar To Record-Breaking Level

Willis Ryder Arnold
Maine Public
A sign last month on the door of Coast City Comics in Portland, one of several businesses forced to close to the public due to coronavirus.

Tens of thousands of Mainers who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic are facing barriers in their efforts to access expanded unemployment benefits approved last month by the legislature.

Laura Amey says she has tried to call the helpline at the Maine Department of Labor 75 times in the last two weeks to find out why her application for unemployment doesn’t qualify. She is infuriated at automated messages that tell her to sned an email, explaining her problem or that no calls are accepted after 12:30.

“The one entity that is able to relieve a lot of people’s stress and suffering over this are not even taking the steps to expand their hours.”

Amey says she is not alone, pointing to similar stories on social media.

Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman says she understands the frustration, but says the agency is responding as fast as possible with the training of new workers this week to handle calls and questions about claims.

“We had about 50 employees who went through training yesterday and are starting to work on some of the backlog and we have brought back some retirees,” Fortman says.

She says the agency has had its phone system crash from hundreds of thousands of calls on Monday alone.

“We had a few hundred thousand phone calls on Monday and the system was never designed to handle that kind of influx.”

Total claims in Maine topped 45,700 last week. For the week ending March 28, claims soared to 23,761, the highest weekly tally ever recorded.

Updated 5:19 p.m. April 2, 2020.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.