Dick's Barber Shop in Orono closed temporarily as the coronavirus pandemic forced Maine businesses to indefinitely shut their doors. Credit: Nina Mahaleris / Penobscot Times

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AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine workers are outpacing those in any other state in making more on unemployment than they would have in their jobs after a federal stimulus program beefed up benefits due to the coronavirus, according to the New York Times.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, created as part of the $2.2 trillion stimulus bill passed in late March, gives workers $600 per week on top of regular unemployment benefits through July’s end. The federally funded program rolled out in Maine last week.

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Regular benefits are based on an individual’s previous salary, with a minimum benefit of $77 and a maximum of $445, according to the Maine Department of Labor. Additional payments of $10 per week are available to workers for each dependent.

In February, the most recent month for which state data are available, the average benefit paid out was just shy of $340. With the extra $600, that could put many workers ahead of what they were making before. In 2018, the most recent data available from the department, the average previous weekly wage of Mainers who filed for unemployment was $857.

According to the New York Times analysis, workers in the majority states were, on average, likely to make more under unemployment than they were at their previous jobs, but the difference was more dramatic in Maine than any other state. That has raised concerns for some small business owners that it might be difficult to rehire workers.

There are several caveats. The wages the state uses in order to calculate unemployment benefits are what workers make when employed by “covered employers,” who pay taxes that help fund unemployment insurance. Workers who previously worked for a covered employer, and were also self-employed part time, get an unemployment benefit that only reflects their wages from their outside employer, even if they also lost out on self-employed business due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The $600 boost for some unemployed workers comes as the state is still struggling to set up a program for self-employed workers and independent contractors, who are also supposed to receive benefits under the federal bill.