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Business and Economy

First-Time Unemployment Claims Continue To Fall In Maine

Launched during the Great Depression, the unemployment insurance system has seen unprecedented strain during the coronavirus crisis.
Launched during the Great Depression, the unemployment insurance system has seen unprecedented strain during the coronavirus crisis.

First time claims for state unemployment benefits fell slightly last week. The Maine Department of Labor reported Thursday that 769 initial claims for state unemployment benefits had been filed. That's down from 808 the week before and 915 the week before that. All three numbers are similar to the number of first time claims filed during the weeks in February 2020, just before the pandemic forced a shutdown of many Maine businesses and threw people out of work by the tens-of-thousands in Maine.

The first-time claim numbers tell just part of the story. About 7,900 Mainers filed continuing claims with the state in the most recent week. But that number was down by some 640 people, who may have gone back to work. The Mills Administration has also tried to lure people off the unemployment rolls by offering a $1,500 bonus to people who returned to work for at least two months. It was hoped the program would reach thousands and ease the state's labor shortage, but, the Portland Press Herald reports only 400 people have actually claimed the bonus.

The fund that pays out state unemployment claims remains healthy, despite the huge amount paid out in claims as a result of last year's pandemic economic slowdown. Governor Mills injected $270 million of federal CARES act money into the fund in June of 2020. Those dollars, plus the normal contributions by employers, had the fund at $431 million this past June, just slightly below the $455 million that was in the fund in February 2020, just before the pandemic reached Maine.

Two federally-funded benefit programs for unemployed Mainers will end early next month. One provides a $300 weekly supplement to people on state benefits. Also ending will be Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, the program that's paid benefits to freelancers, gig economy workers (think Uber drivers and Instacart shoppers) and other who don't qualify for state benefits.