A sign in a newly-reopened store in Portland's Old Port welcomes customers back in this June 18, 2020, file photo. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Jobless claims continued to fall last week from the dizzying heights Maine saw during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, while aid to out-of-work Mainers surpassed $1 billion.

Mainers submitted 5,100 new jobless claims to the state for the week of June 28 to July 4, according to new data released by the Maine Department of Labor on Thursday morning. Of those, about 2,800 were for traditional state benefits, while another 2,300 were for benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a new federal program approved by Congress as part of a coronavirus-relief package in late March.

That represents 2,800 people who filed claims last week. To qualify for the federal jobless benefits, Mainers must first be denied state benefits before they can apply for them under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

Since March 15, Mainers have received $1.03 billion in jobless benefits, according to the Department of Labor. It paid $73.9 million in all of 2019.

Maine’s labor commissioner, Laura Fortman, called the infusion of jobless aid into the economy a “lifeline” for workers and communities.

Additionally, Mainers filed 62,600 applications to continue receiving state jobless benefits and another 24,700 sought to continue getting benefits under the federal assistance program last week, the department said. Workers must file applications every week to continue receiving jobless benefits.

Continued jobless claims fell slightly from the previous week, when 90,300 Mainers sought to renew benefits. But that still remains well above the high seen in April 2009 during the Great Recession when 28,564 out-of-work Mainers sought to continue receiving jobless benefits.

Total jobless claims over the past four weeks have totaled about 21,800. Jobless claims peaked the week of March 29 to April 4 at 30,899 new weekly claims. Those claims fell sharply to 13,421 for the week of April 5 to April 11, ending three weeks of record high unemployment filings. Jobless claims for the week ending April 18 totaled 11,561, 7,420 for the week ending April 25, 26,600 for the week ending May 2, 21,000 for the week ending May 9, 11,683 for the week ending May 16, 37,000 for the week ending May 23, 24,500 for the week ending May 30, 6,700 for the week ending June 6, 5,900 for the week ending June 13, 5,600 for the week ending June 20 and 5,200 for the week ending June 27.

Before new restrictions on businesses in the state took effect in March, 634 new jobless claims were filed for the week of March 8 to March 14, according to state data.

Mainers have filed about 245,000 jobless claims since March 15. New claims until mid-June surpassed the state’s previous record of 5,634 weekly claims set in January 2009 during the Great Recession, according to state data.

The industries with the highest jobless claims include food services and lodging, with 20,960; retail, with 15,057; health care and social assistance, with 14,869; and manufacturing, with 7,299, according to the Department of Labor.

On Thursday, the department said it canceled 400 new and 2,400 continued fraudulent claims for the week ending July 4. Since May 30, 25,000 new and 46,400 continued claims have been canceled due to fraud.

Maine’s unemployment rate fell to 9.3 percent in May, down from 10.6 percent in April. That compares with about 3 percent in March and February and 3.1 percent a year ago. The economic slump brought on by the coronavirus ended a 39-month streak of unemployment below 4 percent.

Nationally, 1.31 million Americans filed jobless claims for the week ending July 4, down 99,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 1.42 million million, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Since the outbreak began, more than 40 million Americans have sought jobless benefits to weather the economic slowdown.

The national jobless rate fell to 11.1 percent in June as the economy added 4.8 million jobs, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said last week. Job growth rose sharply in hospitality, with gains also seen in manufacturing, retail and other industries.

The national jobless rate peaked at 14.7 percent in April before falling unexpectedly to 13.3 percent in May. That is still well above February’s 3.5 percent, a nearly 50-year low.