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Business and Economy

Lawmakers Eye Sweeping Changes To Maine's Unemployment System

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Robert F. Bukaty
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Associated Press file
In this Sept. 2, 2020, file photo, a shopper walks by one of several vacant retail spaces among the outlet shops in Freeport, Maine.

Democratic Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau is calling for a sweeping overhaul of Maine’s unemployment system, citing its failures during the pandemic.

Fecteau’s bill is still in development, but worker supporters say it will include a navigator program to help the unemployed apply for benefits, increase eligibility and benefit payments for partially unemployed workers and require employers to file claims on behalf of workers in the event of a mass layoff.

Fecteau says the bill will modernize an unemployment system that forced many Mainers to wait weeks or months for assistance.

“No one is looking to lean on government, or get help from government, if they don’t need it,” he says. “But when they do, it’s my hope that systems we have are reliable and that people can walk away saying, ‘When I needed government’s help, government was there to help me.’“

Christine Hastedt of Maine Equal Justice says one provision would create contracts between the state Labor Department and local organizations to help the unemployed navigate the application process.

“And where people are naturally likely to turn so that they can get information that they trust and rely on and get benefits far more quickly than they have during this pandemic,” Hastedt says.

The bill is still in development, but additional details are expected to be released soon.

The Mills administration is also preparing legislation for its own overhaul of the unemployment system.