Maine saw a slight drop in new jobless claims last week as Washington remains deadlocked over a new coronavirus relief package.
Mainers filed 2,400 jobless claims for the week of Aug. 16 to 22, according to data released Thursday by the Maine Department of Labor. Of those, 1,100 were for traditional state benefits and 1,300 were for benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program Congress approved in late March as part of a coronavirus-relief package.
That represents 1,300 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 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 $1.4 billion in jobless benefits, according to the Department of Labor. It paid out nearly $74 million in all of 2019.
Additionally, Mainers filed 40,900 applications to continue receiving state jobless benefits and another 23,200 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 70,700 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.
Thursday’s report comes as Congress remains at loggerheads over a new coronavirus relief package. Talks broke down earlier this summer as Democrats and Republicans split over expanded aid for jobless workers and a second stimulus payment for all Americans. Republicans are expected to propose a new $500 billion package that would include $400 in expanded weekly jobless benefits and loans for small businesses, but that amount remains lower than that called for by Democrats.
As the debate over the relief package continues, Maine was recently approved for an extra weekly $300 payment for jobless under a plan advanced by President Donald Trump. Though that won’t come immediately for out-of-work Mainers, as it is expected to take several weeks for the state to roll that out. The benefits will be retroactive to Aug. 1.
Total jobless claims over the past four weeks have totaled about 8,750. 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, 2,070 for the week ending Aug. 1, 1,780 for the week ending Aug. 8 and 2,500 for the week ending Aug. 15.
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 267,800 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 13,383; retail, with 8,225; health care and social assistance, with 8,160; and manufacturing, with 4,677, according to the Department of Labor.
On Thursday, labor officials said that 380 new and 50 continued jobless claims were canceled due to fraud for the week ending Aug. 22. 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 rose to 9.9 percent in July from 6.6 percent in June. 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 million Americans filed jobless claims for the week ended Aug. 22, down 98,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 1.1 million, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The national jobless rate fell to 10.2 percent in July. 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.