Tens of thousands of jobless Mainers will receive one-time payments of $600 from the state to mitigate the financial hardship that could occur if the federal unemployment programs many have relied on for months aren’t extended before they run out in less than three weeks.

The state’s new Pandemic Relief Program will automatically issue payments to those who are unemployed or partially unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mills administration said in a news release Wednesday.

The payments will be funded with $25.2 million from the state’s portion of federal money allocated through the CARES Act this spring. The state Department of Labor estimates 42,000 Maine residents could be eligible for the aid.

The one-time payments will be made to eligible claimants by the end of the month and deposited directly into the account on file with the labor department. Those eligible will not need to call or apply for the payment.

“Families across Maine are still grappling with the unprecedented economic hardships caused by the pandemic,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement. “While this relief payment is not enough to make unemployed Maine people whole, it is our hope it will serve as a lifeline to sustain them during the holidays and until federal support arrives.”

Tens of thousands of Maine residents collect unemployment benefits through federal programs that expire Dec. 26, the day after Christmas. So far, Congress and the White House have not reached an agreement to renew or replace those benefits.

Those collecting federal unemployment benefits will not be able to replace them with state benefits when the federal programs expire. The vast majority of continuing unemployment claims, for those continuing to receive benefits, in the last week of November were made under two federal programs set to expire.

More than 15,400 claims were filed in Maine under federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a program for workers such as contractors and self-employed workers who do not qualify for state benefits, according to the labor department. About 12,700 claims were made under Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, another federal program that offers workers an additional 13 weeks of benefits after the state’s maximum of 26 weeks has expired.

Maine Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman sent a letter to Maine’s congressional delegation last week urging the lawmakers to renew the federal unemployment programs and provide support to state unemployment trust funds, funded through businesses taxes.

“We urge Congress to extend federal unemployment programs, but with their future unclear, we are stepping in to try to provide a level of assistance and certainty,” Fortman said in a statement. “We hope that this supplemental benefit will help struggling Maine people provide basic necessities for themselves and their families during these unprecedented times.”

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