AUGUSTA — Maine is bracing for a new wave of need as extended federal unemployment benefits near their end.

If Congress does not reauthorize extended benefits, 17,000 Mainers will see their benefits run out by May, Department of Labor spokesman Adam Fisher said.

The department and its 12 regional Career Centers will increase outreach to unemployment claimants and add workshops to help the long-term unemployed find work.

“Presumably all these folks have been engaged in a job search, but we’re getting to a place where people are going to have to think very differently about what their options are,” Fisher said.

Maine offers 26 weeks of unemployment benefits.

People who remain unemployed at the end of that period may be eligible for the federal Extended Benefits and Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs, but those will be closed to new applications at the end of the year unless they are renewed.

Their end would come at perhaps the worst time of year for Maine, Fisher said. Seasonal employment is at its lowest in January and February, and heating costs tax family budgets.

“This is peak season for us,” he said. “The week after Christmas, the first week of January are the busiest times of year for us even in the best economic conditions.”

Maine’s unemployment rate was 7.3 percent in October. The nation’s unemployment rate fell to 8.6 percent last month, the lowest since March 2009, the U.S. Labor Department said Friday.

The labor department will send notices to unemployment claimants about the end to federal benefits, and career centers will add more and larger workshops on resume-writing, interviewing and computer skills.

Augusta Career Center Manager Star Perkins said she hopes libraries can help provide services to people who may not be able to afford gas money to visit her office. She’ll invite local librarians to attend workshops so they can take ideas back to their communities, and she’d like to broadcast sessions to libraries so people can attend remotely.

Perkins said the career center will direct job-seekers to temporary staffing agencies, which have been met with some skepticism.

“They were concerned about what would happen to their unemployment benefits,” she said. “We’re hoping they’ll be more willing to entertain those possibilities once there is no more unemployment.”

A temporary job might not provide security or benefits, but some companies use them to test potential employees for permanent jobs, Perkins said.

Jason Kurtz, a 29-year-old Sidney resident, was at the Augusta Career Center on Thursday, searching Maine’s Job Bank and Craigslist for anything he could do with his hands — maintenance or construction or welding, long- or short-term.

Hodgdon Interiors in Richmond laid off Kurtz eight months ago because of lack of work, he said, and he has not collected unemployment benefits since his Maine benefits ran out two months ago.

“I’m here pretty much every day, from the time they open until the time they close,” he said. “I did it at my house until my computer crashed.”

Kurtz said he served 12 years in the Army and would like to see extra benefits offered to non-disabled veterans like himself.

Connie Monson, 59, is a licensed practical nurse but has been out of work for a year. She said she’s on the verge of becoming homeless but never applied for unemployment benefits.

“I just didn’t feel right about it,” she said. “I’m able to work, physically able, and I believe other people should have it.”

Perkins said she admires the independence that leads to decisions like Monson’s but will encourage people to apply for the assistance they deserve, such as food stamps.

“It’s your tax dollars, both federal and state, that have supported these programs for years,” she said. “And if you need to access them in bad times, there’s no shame in that.”

 

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]


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