Another 7,400 Mainers filed new unemployment insurance claims last week as the state prepares for an influx of claims from newly eligible workers.

Roughly 108,500 Mainers have claimed jobless benefits in the past six weeks, more than one of every seven workers in the state.

Nationwide, 3.8 million people filed initial claims for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the total number of people who have lost a job to more than 30 million since the coronavirus pandemic struck the United States.

Last weeks’ new jobless claims in Maine were the lowest since mid-March, when the economic reverberations of the pandemic shook the state.

It is likely that the true number of people out of a job in Maine is higher, because many self-employed workers, contractors and others who do not normally qualify have not yet filed for benefits.

Those workers will be allowed to begin filing for unemployment starting Friday morning.

Overall, nearly 73,000 Mainers filed an initial or continuing weekly benefits claim last week, the highest number on record and twice the peak number during the Great Recession in early 2009, the department said.

Maine has paid out more than $200 million in unemployment benefits since March 15. About $80 million came from the state’s unemployment trust fund, with the remainder covered by federal government, the department said.

If people file a continuing claim, it means they are still on the unemployment rolls. But there are many reasons people may be jobless but not receiving benefits. Their claim may have been denied or flagged for additional scrutiny by the state before being approved or denied. The Department of Labor last week expedited thousands of claims to avoid a monthslong backlog of fact-finding interviews.

The department is preparing for another surge of claims starting Friday, when self-employed, contract and other workers affected by the pandemic but not typically eligible for jobless benefits can begin applying.

Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman, in a news conference Thursday, said that based on an analysis from Maine’s tax agency, roughly 70,000 workers could be eligible for expanded benefits through the Federal CARES Act, called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. It is unknown how many people will apply.

“We don’t know how many of those folks are impacted by COVID-19,” Fortman said.

Around 7,000 workers whose claims have been denied because they did not meet earning requirements, were not eligible or other issues could start receiving benefits under the expansion, Fortman said. There may be thousands of others who are out of work but held off applying because the state could not accept their claim.

In order to get money out as soon as possible, the state is waiving an initial rule that people provide an earnings attestation when filing their initial claim, Fortman added.

Instead, workers will start by receiving $172 per week, the minimum payment, equal to about 50 percent of the average weekly benefit amount. Under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, claimants will also receive an extra $600 per week provided by the federal government. Payments are retroactive to March 15 or when someone lost their job.

The department will ask for documentation of earnings to finalize applications later in May. People will receive retroactive payments if they are entitled to more than the minimum weekly benefit based on their income, Fortman said.

“I made this decision to get money in your pocket faster,” she said.

Newly eligible workers can start applying Friday morning. Workers who were initially denied because they did not reach the earnings threshold or because they were self-employed or contractors will have their claims processed automatically. Those who have never filed before need to set up an account and file a new claim.

The department will staff the phone lines Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon to help people through the process, but Fortman urged people to file online if they are able, and to take time applying to avoid making mistakes that could delay benefits.

“There is no need to file first thing Friday morning,” she said. “You can file anytime through 11:59 p.m. Saturday, and the benefits will be the same.”

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