Customers wear pandemic masks while waiting to order at Red's Eats, a popular lobster roll stand, Wednesday in Wiscasset. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Maine saw new jobless claims drop sharply last week to the lowest they have been since mid-March when the coronavirus pandemic reached the state.

Mainers submitted 3,800 new jobless claims to the state for the week of July 12-18, according to new data released Thursday morning by the Maine Department of Labor. Of those, about 2,200 were for traditional state benefits, while 1,600 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 2,300 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, which extends jobless benefits to those who traditionally don’t qualify for them, such as the self-employed.

Since March 15, Mainers have received $1.17 billion in jobless benefits, according to the Department of Labor. It paid out nearly $74 million in all of 2019.

Additionally, Mainers filed 59,900 applications to continue receiving state jobless benefits and another 25,000 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.

That represents a slight increase in continued jobless claims from the previous week, when 83,900 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.

Mainers collecting jobless benefits will lose an extra $600 weekly payment that Congress approved as part of a federal relief bill when it expires July 31. It will be included in benefits paid out for the week ending July 25, according to the Department of Labor.

This week the department will be updating benefits for those self-employed or independent contractors who have signed up for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. All workers collecting benefits under that program have been approved for a minimum weekly payment of $172. Workers who make more than $15,224 will be eligible for up to $445 or $462, depending on whether they filed their initial claim before or after June 1.

For those workers who make less than $15,224, they will not need to provide additional information to continue receiving that payment, while those making more will need to provide additional tax information if the department does not have their 2019 tax information on file. The department estimated that 60 percent of workers will not need to file additional documentation.

Total jobless claims over the past four weeks have totaled about 22,100. Jobless claims peaked the week of March 29-April 4 at 30,899 new weekly claims. Those claims fell sharply to 13,421 for the week of April 5-11, 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, 5,200 for the week ending June 27, 5,100 for the week ending July 4 and 8,000 for the week ending July 11.

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

Mainers have filed more than 256,500 jobless claims since March 15. New claims each week since then have 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, labor officials said that 1,300 new and 195 continued jobless claims were canceled due to fraud for the week ending July 18. Since May 30, more than 25,000 new and more than 48,000 continued claims have been determined to be fraudulent, according to the Department of Labor.

Maine’s unemployment rate fell to 6.6 percent in June, down from 9.3 percent in May. That compares with about 3 percent in March and 2.9 percent a year ago. The economic slump brought on by the coronavirus pandemic ended a 39-month streak of unemployment below 4 percent.

Nationally, 1.41 million Americans filed jobless claims for the week ending July 18, up 104,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 1.3 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.