It goes without saying that our news and social media has been flooded with updates on COVID-19 these last several weeks. There’s an incredible amount of information out there, but I think it’s important to share again some of the biggest steps our state has taken and highlight some of the resources available to families and businesses as you navigate this pandemic.

COVID-19 has put a financial strain on many here in our community. If your workplace was temporarily closed or you are taking an unpaid leave of absence due to the pandemic, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. The Maine Department of Labor is working hard to get unemployment insurance to every Mainer who needs it, but they are receiving thousands of applications every day. The best way for you to apply is online at reemployme.maine.gov. If you do not have access to the internet or are having trouble online, you can file over the phone at 1-800-593-7660 between 8 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., Monday through Friday.

You may have seen the reports or experienced firsthand that there are incredibly long wait times for folks calling in to the Department of Labor right now. As of Monday, April 6, the department implemented a new alphabetical-by-last-name schedule to ease the wait time. If you’re calling in, the department will take calls from people with last names beginning with A-H on Mondays; I-Q on Tuesdays; R-Z on Wednesdays and anyone on Thursdays and Fridays. One concern I’ve heard several times from people in town is that they are getting locked out of their account if they mistype their login password more than twice. If this happens to you, you should contact the Augusta Career Center at 207-624-5120 or the Bangor Career Center at 207-561-4050, and they can help you reset your login. 

If you are self-employed, check the Department of Labor website to see if they have completed instituting a program through the federal government to expand UI benefits. You may be eligible once those take effect. Congressman Jared Golden’s office has put together a great resource guide for our small businesses, and you can access that information at http://Golden.house.gov/COVID-19/small-business-resource-guide. His office has also made themselves available to assist our local businesses as they navigate applying for the different Federal programs that have been created. 

Finally, I want to briefly touch on what you can expect from the new COVID-19 stimulus package that are providing funds to the state of Maine. Adults could receive a direct payment of up to $1,200 each, $2,400 for couples, and an additional $500 for children 17 and under. Those payments will be determined by the income listed on your 2019 tax filing, or 2018 tax filing if you have not yet submitted your 2019 taxes. Keep an eye on your mailbox for those checks. 

The information I’ve shared is just some of the many steps being taken in Maine and the resources available to you. Despite the closing of the State House in Augusta, legislative staff and I are still working to help connect you with the information and help you need at this time. Please don’t hesitate to reach out at [email protected]. 

Stay safe, stay healthy and look out for one another.

 Betty Austin of Skowhegan is a Democratic state representative.


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