Some Mainers collecting federal unemployment checks could have their benefits delayed by a week or more as the state labor department implements reauthorized jobless benefits under the new federal coronavirus relief act.

People who are enrolled in federal jobless relief programs should continue filing weekly certifications so they can receive payments as soon as the program extensions are running, the Maine Department of Labor said in guidance issued Monday.

Benefits are being extended by up to 11 weeks and will be paid retroactively to either this coming Saturday or Jan. 9, whichever date the relief act takes effect, a department spokeswoman said.

President Trump signed a $900 billion bipartisan relief bill Sunday, after delaying for days because he opposed part of the federal spending and pandemic aid program.

The bill was finalized after federal pandemic unemployment benefits expired Saturday, leading to a brief delay before they can be restarted, the state labor department said.

Under the new law, two federal jobless benefit programs will be extended through March, unemployed residents will receive a $300 supplemental weekly payment, and the maximum duration of some benefits will be extended.

States have to receive guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor before they can implement the program fully, the state said.

“This interruption in the programs will cause at least a one-week delay in people receiving their federal benefits,” said Maine Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman in a statement. “However, we are relieved that the bipartisan COVID relief package has been signed by the President. Unemployment benefits are a lifeline for thousands of Maine people right now. Maine Department of Labor will work as quickly as possible to ensure people can continue to provide the basic necessities for themselves and their families.”

The relief bill extends two federal programs that expanded eligibility for unemployment insurance to millions of Americans last spring.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, available to those such as contractors, self-employed businesspeople and others who don’t ordinarily qualify for state jobless benefits, will be extended another 11 weeks to 50 weeks total.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which extends benefits for workers who have exhausted state and federal aid, will provide another 11 weeks of benefits, to 24 weeks total. People can collect benefits through the programs until early April.

About 30,500 continuing jobless claims were made in Maine under the two programs in the third week of December, two-thirds of all continuing claims filed in the state.

Anyone enrolled in federal or state unemployment aid programs also will receive an extra $300 a week until March 13.

Extra aid for unemployed workers is considered a critical way to help tens of thousands in Maine get through one of the most challenging economic periods in living memory. Some workers have not returned to work or taken a new job since being laid off last spring because they have childcare responsibilities or a medical condition that would make COVID-19 infection dangerous or life-threatening.

The number of continued claims – filed to keep receiving benefits – for state and federal programs is higher than at any point in the past 17 years, according to records from the state labor department.

While the number of new unemployment claims filed each week has come down from a towering height of nearly 31,000 in the first week of April, thousands of Mainers continue to file weekly for ongoing benefits.

The four-week average of new claims has grown every week since early November. Some of the increase is the result of seasonal layoffs in hospitality, construction and other industries, according to the labor department.

The coronavirus pandemic has likely contributed to elevated layoffs recently. Maine has seen a spike in infections, hospitalizations and deaths since November. The worsening pandemic coincides with colder weather and shorter days, which have curbed outdoor dining and drinking, possibly leading to more layoffs by bars and restaurants.

Eating, drinking, lodging and entertainment establishments took the biggest employment hit when such businesses were forced to close their doors last spring. Overall, the state’s labor force recovery ground to a halt in November, with a slight net loss of jobs, the Maine Center for Workforce Research and Information reported this month.

Maine recovered about half the jobs it lost during the spring, but it remains almost 50,000 jobs below the total last February.

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