AUGUSTA, Maine — Laid-off workers who have been unable to find new jobs because of the deepening recession will be able to receive extended unemployment benefits under an emergency bill signed into law Thursday.
The bill allows Maine to take advantage of additional unemployment compensation authorized by the federal stimulus package passed by Congress and approved by President Obama earlier this year.
Workers who lose their jobs in Maine already are entitled to receive 59 weeks of unemployment benefits, which includes a 33-week extension enacted earlier. The measure passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. John Baldacci on Thursday would extend those benefits another 13 weeks.
Federal stimulus money pays for 100 percent of the extended benefits for most workers.
The governor signed the legislation while flanked by lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle.
“Working together with [legislative] leadership, we have been able to ensure that 10,000 laid-off workers, who by no fault of their own would have otherwise exhausted their benefits, will be able to receive extended benefits,” Baldacci said.
Approximately 260 people are now eligible for the latest extension of unemployment benefits, which will be payable beginning with the week ending April 11. But state officials expect hundreds more to become eligible in the coming months. The extended benefits will be available through the end of the year.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously and by a 139-1 vote in the House.
“The political will was there to get the job done, and in record time, no less,” said Senate President Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell, D-Vassalboro.
Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry, described the bill’s passage as “bipartisan cooperation at its best.”
“It was the caring and responsible thing to do,” said Raye, the Senate minority leader.
Maine’s unemployment rate was 8 percent in February, just shy of the national average of 8.1 percent. By comparison, Maine’s unemployment rate in February 2008 was 4.9 percent, according to the state Department of Labor.