Thousands of Mainers filed new unemployment insurance claims last week, and tens of thousands remained on jobless benefits as the state’s economy continues to struggle.

About 2,800 residents filed a new claim for federal and state benefits last week, the Maine Department of Labor reported Wednesday. Roughly 2,200 claims were made for state unemployment insurance, and 2,000 claims for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Claims often outnumber claimants because of overlap between the different benefit programs.

The high number of initial federal claims was due to state labor authorities shifting eligible claimants onto that program from state extended benefits, which ended Nov. 14, the department said. That state program offered 13 extra weeks of assistance after the regular 26-week eligibility period was exhausted, but the extension can only be used in times of very high state unemployment and does not take into account federal programs.

About 41,400 continuing claims for state and federal benefits were made last week, a slight decrease from the previous week, but still higher than at any pre-pandemic point in the past 17 years.

The continuing claims include those made for federal aid programs, which are rapidly drawing to a close. Federal unemployment assistance rolled out as part of the CARES Act in March is set to expire at the end of December.

Nationally, the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week for a second straight week to 778,000, evidence that the U.S. economy and job market remain under strain as coronavirus cases surge and colder weather heighten the risks, The Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Labor Department’s report Wednesday said that jobless claims climbed from 748,000 the week before. Before the virus struck hard in mid-March, weekly claims typically amounted to only about 225,000, according to the AP.


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