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Business and Economy

New Bill Reforming Maine's Unemployment System Signed into Law

Labor advocates say a newly signed law will bring about some of the most meaningful changes to the state's unemployment system in decades.

Like much of the country, Maine saw an enormous increase in unemployment claims as businesses closed last spring, and many workers struggled to access benefits.

Andy O'Brien, with the Maine AFL-CIO, says the policy signed into law on Monday will address many of these issues through a number of steps, including a new peer workforce navigator program in which community groups will help laid-off workers access benefits and find jobs and training.

"Right now, it's very difficult to get through to MDOL and get good answers that you can understand," O'Brien says. "So these groups can help them get benefits, and also help them get into a good-paying job."

O'Brien says before the pandemic, only about a quarter of those eligible for unemployment actually received benefits. The new legislation requires the state's labor department to examine that issue and recommend ways to fix it.

The new law also increases benefits for dependent children. Workers would also be eligible to receive benefits if they're forced to leave a job because of a lack of transportation or child care.