Jeff Wallace (right), director of code enforcement for the city of Bangor, speaks with Papa John's Assistant Manager Ashley Curtis about enforcing coronavirus safety guidelines on Nov. 19. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Fewer Mainers filed initial unemployment claims with the state for the week that ended Dec. 26, a tense week during which Congress and the White House hotly debated a new stimulus package that would extend federal jobless benefits and that the president signed on Sunday.

Some 2,700 initial claims were filed for state unemployment insurance, down from 2,950 the previous week. Another 1,800 initial claims were filed for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, up from 1,900 from the week before, according to Maine Department of Labor data released Thursday.

In total, about 3,300 people filed an initial claim or reopened their unemployment claim, down from the 3,700 the week before. The claims data is preliminary.

About 13,400 weekly continued claims were filed last week for state unemployment and 16,500 under the assistance program. In addition, about 10,500 weekly continued claims were filed for the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.

Maine typically sees increases in state unemployment claims this time of year because of seasonal layoffs every winter at hotels, bars and restaurants and for construction, landscaping and temporary help, the labor department said. Some industries have seen increased impact due to COVID-19.

Between March 15 and Dec. 26, the department has paid out more than $1.7 billion in federal and state unemployment benefits.

The department has handled approximately 216,500 initial claims for the state unemployment program and 105,200 initial claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. More than 3 million weekly continued claims have been filed.

The Maine Department of Labor confirmed this week that individuals receiving unemployment benefits would not see their benefits lapse after Congress extended the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs, but said benefits for the week ending Jan. 2 may be delayed while the agency awaits federal guidance.

Nationally, seasonally adjusted initial claims for the week that ended Dec. 26 were 787,000, a decrease of 19,000 from the previous week’s revised level of 806,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor

BDN writer Jessica Piper contributed to this report.

Lori Valigra, senior reporter for economy and business, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...