Tourists relax the use of their pandemic masks Monday while gathered to view a seal swimming near their tour boat off Portland. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Maine continued to see new jobless claims slide last week, but they still remain higher than those seen before the coronavirus pandemic.

Mainers submitted 1,780 new jobless claims for the week of Aug. 2 to Aug. 8, according to data released Thursday morning by the Maine Department of Labor. Of those, 1,500 were for traditional state benefits, while 280 were for benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program Congress approved in late March as part of a coronavirus-relief package.

That represents 1,500 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 benefits to those who traditionally don’t qualify for them, such as the self-employed or independent contractors.

Since March 15, Mainers have received $1.35 billion in jobless benefits, according to the Department of Labor. It paid out nearly $74 million in all of 2019.

Additionally, Mainers filed 50,200 applications to continue receiving state jobless benefits and another 26,800 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 decrease in continued jobless claims from the previous week, when 79,500 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.

Starting this week, out-of-work Mainers who wish to continue receiving jobless benefits must show they are actively looking for work. But not all jobless Mainers will need to comply with that requirement.

Those Mainers who are permanently separated from their employers must show they have searched for a new job when they file to renew their benefits starting Aug. 16, according to the Maine Department of Labor.

That includes attending a job fair hosted by a CareerCenter, applying and interviewing for jobs, contacting employers to see if they are hiring, or participating in job training or skills development, among other activities.

Mainers who aren’t working because of concerns related to the coronavirus but remain connected to their employer and those who are self-employed and plan to continue remaining self-employed won’t be required to show they have been actively looking for work, according to the Department of Labor.

That will remain in effect until 30 days after Gov. Janet Mills’ civil state of emergency declaration ends. Mills extended her civil state of emergency through Sept. 4.

It comes as Congress remains deadlocked over the fate of the next coronavirus relief package that could include another round of stimulus payments to Americans and renewed jobless aid for those still without work due to the pandemic. But Republicans and Democrats are at odds over provisions including expanded federal benefits for jobless workers.

A previous expanded $600 weekly payment from the federal government to jobless Americans expired at the end of July.

President Donald Trump announced over the weekend that he was authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to allocate $44 billion to supplement unemployment benefits by $400 per week through a program that requires states to cover 25 percent of that cost. If jobless claims stayed the same, the match would cost Maine about $8 million a week.

But state labor officials called the order “vague” and lack details about how to implement the program, while others have blasted the measure for adding extra costs onto already cash-strapped states amid the continued economic fallout from the coronavirus.

Total jobless claims over the past four weeks have totaled about 10,250. 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, 3,800 for the week ending July 18, 2,600 for the week ending July 25 and 2,070 for the week ending Aug. 1.

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 262,900 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 4,000 new and 650 continued jobless claims were canceled due to fraud for the week ending Aug. 8. Since May 30, more than 30,000 new and nearly 50,000 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, 963,000 Americans filed jobless claims for the week ending Aug. 8, down 228,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 1.18 million, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. More than 30 million Americans continue to collect 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.