In this Feb. 10, 2021, file photo, a man wearing a mask walks by an empty storefront in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Mainers who found themselves without work over the past year have collected more than $2 billion in jobless benefits.

That comes amid the unprecedented economic upheaval from the pandemic and Maine’s public gathering restrictions put in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Mainers submitted 1,700 new jobless claims for the week March 14-20, according to data released Thursday morning by the Maine Department of Labor. Of those, 1,400 were for traditional state benefits, while 300 were for benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

That’s down from 2,200 claims the week before.

Since March 15, 2020, Mainers have collected more than $2 billion in state and federal jobless benefits, according to the Department of Labor. It paid out nearly $74 million in all of 2019.

Additionally, Mainers filed 14,650 applications to continue receiving state jobless benefits and another 13,100 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 comes as Maine saw its jobless rate tick up slightly to 5.2 percent in January as more people returned to the labor force and resumed searching for work. That’s down from the pandemic high of 10.4 percent in April 2020, but above 3.2 percent in February 2020, ending a historic streak of record-low employment.

Maine’s labor force participation rate stands at 59.9 percent, down 3.2 percentage points from a year earlier. It represents 31,400 fewer Mainers in the workforce. The labor force participation rate does not count those who are unemployed but have stopped looking for work.

If Maine’s labor force participation rate stood at its pre-pandemic level, the jobless rate could be as high as 9.4 percent, the Department of Labor said earlier this month.

On Thursday, labor officials said that 920 new and six continued jobless claims were canceled due to fraud for the week ending March 20.