After months of waiting, tens of thousands of out-of-work Mainers collecting the minimum weekly payment through a federal benefits program soon will have that payment adjusted to reflect their former income.

Meanwhile, unemployment trends in Maine and the U.S. are diverging as coronavirus surges cause other states to shut down businesses again. That isn’t happening in Maine, where outbreaks, new cases and hospitalizations remain low. The shifting trends are occurring just as the federal government is poised to cut off an additional, $600-a-week emergency benefits payment to unemployed workers.

In May, the Maine Department of Labor implemented the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which grants benefits to those typically ineligible, such as self-employed and contract workers.

Since then, those claimants have received $172 per week, the legally mandated minimum in Maine. Those receiving benefits are also eligible for an added $600 per week from the federal government, a benefit that runs out this week.

Some people may be eligible for higher weekly payments based on their income, but the state’s plan to correct the payments was derailed when it shifted its resources to confront a wave of fraudulent benefit claims.

The department intends to update those payments this week, it said in a statement. People collecting federal benefits who made less than $15,224 last year will continue receiving the minimum payment. Those with higher earnings may be eligible for more benefits of up to $462 per week, depending on when they filed their initial claim.


About 60 percent of the people collecting federal benefits will not have to do anything to verify their income, because the department will automatically determine their eligibility for a higher payment using 2019 tax information, it said

Claimants whose information cannot be automatically matched will need to provide supporting tax documents to the department through its online claims filing system. If claimants are due retroactive benefits, they will be paid two weeks after the state redetermines their weekly amount, the department said.

“Although our economy is showing gradual improvements, we know too many people continue to struggle,” Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said in a statement. “This increase will provide some financial relief for those who have been waiting for their full benefit amount.”

At least 25,000 Mainers applied for benefits through the federal program last week among the nearly 85,000 weekly benefit claims filed, according to the labor department.

The number of new claims for state unemployment fell to about 2,200 last week, the lowest total since the pandemic hit in mid-March. Another 1,600 new claims were filed for federal benefits. In all, 2,300 Mainers filed new benefit claims, with the rest being duplicates caused by the overlapping state and federal programs.

Nationally, more than 1.4 million initial unemployment claims were filed last week, the first weekly increase since March. Analysts said the surge could be the result of subsequent business shutdowns as the virus rages out of control in several states. Maine is not one of them.


New claims for state unemployment benefits and continuing claims in Maine have trended steadily downward since the beginning of June, with the exception of a spike in new claims last week.

But the number of Mainers who continue to file for benefits every week is higher than any time in the past 17 years and nearly three times the highest number of continuing claims in March 2009, at the height of the Great Recession.

As it manages benefits for a historic number of unemployed Mainers, the labor department also has investigated widespread fraudulent claims allegedly perpetrated by organized criminal groups. Last week, the department canceled 1,300 initial claims and 195 weekly claims determined to be fraudulent, it said.  The latest fraud cases add to thousands of claims that have been canceled since late May.

The department has received about 20,000 unique reports of imposter fraud to date, it added. Roughly 15,000 legitimate claims flagged for potential fraud have been reinstated.

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