An ice cream shop employee wears a mask to protect against coronavirus while walking to work Saturday in Bath. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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New weekly jobless claims continued their steady decline last week from the dizzying heights seen in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic.

But that comes as tens of thousands of out-of-work Mainers face a sharp drop in jobless benefits next week.

Mainers filed 2,600 new jobless claims for the week of July 19 to July 25, according to new data released by the Maine Department of Labor on Thursday morning. Of those, about 2,000 were for traditional state jobless benefits, while 600 were for benefits under Pandemic Unemployment assistance, a federal program Congress approved in late March as part of a coronavirus relief package.

That represents 2,100 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 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which extends jobless benefits to those who traditionally don’t qualify for them, such as the self-employed or independent contractors.

Since March 15, Mainers have received $1.24 billion in jobless benefits, according to the Department of Labor. It paid out nearly $74 million in all of 2019.

Additionally, Mainers filed 61,200 applications to continue receiving state jobless benefits and another 26,000 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 an increase in continued jobless claims from the previous week, when 84,900 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.

This week will be the last time jobless Mainers receive a $600 weekly payment the federal government provided on top of their benefits. State benefits are capped at $445 weekly, with the average sitting at $327 as of May.

The loss of that benefit would mean a 43 percent income drop for those out-of-work Mainers receiving the average state benefit.

Congress is divided over the next pandemic relief package, with Democrats and Republicans split over provisions related to jobless benefits. Both sides would continue to offer a form of expanded benefits in their respective packages, but Republicans want that weekly payment reduced to $200 and Democrats are fighting to retain the full $600.

Total jobless claims over the past four weeks have totaled about 19,500. Jobless claims peaked the week ending April 4 at 30,899 new weekly claims. Those claims fell sharply to 13,421 for the week ending 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, 5,200 for the week ending June 27, 5,100 for the week ending July 4 8,000 for the week ending July 11 and 3,800 for the week ending July 18.

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

Mainers have filed more than 259,100 jobless claims since March 15. New claims through 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 16,206; retail, with 9,569; health care and social assistance, with 8,593; and manufacturing, with 4,691, according to the Department of Labor.

On Thursday, labor officials said that 670 new and 260 continued jobless claims were canceled due to fraud for the week ending July 25. 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, 1.43 million Americans filed jobless claims for the week ending July 25, up 12,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 1.41 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.