April 02, 2020
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Maine workforce officials say economic impact from virus unknown, but resources coming

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Heather Johnson, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN

As of noon Wednesday, March 18, 30 Maine residents have been confirmed positive and 12 others are presumed positive for the coronavirus, according to the state. Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription.

Wilbur McCaul told state workforce authorities Wednesday that he’s worried about his workers. His business of fishing for pogies, a bait for lobster, has stopped.

“Everything is dead now,” he said during a videoconference Wednesday with Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Heather Johnson and Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman. “I’m really scared because we have several families who rely on us.”

McCaul and several dozen others joined the videoconference held to explain current state and federal benefits for workers who for the time being are unemployed because of the coronavirus.

Hundreds of businesses across Maine already have shut or cut back their workforce because customers are scarce. The governor today tightened restrictions on personal contact to small gatherings of no more than 10 people and has asked companies and schools to send people home.

“We don’t have an estimate on the number of workers affected,” said Johnson. “At some point we will take a step back and track the economic impacts of this. We’re not there yet.”

Both the labor and the economic development departments said they aim to have a list of federal and state resources on their websites tomorrow. They also intend to put up a list of essential businesses during the virus outbreak such as food processing, agriculture, construction and industrial manufacturing.

The Maine Department of Labor said earlier today that new unemployment claims shot up in the first three days of this week as businesses closed or cut back staff because of the coronavirus.

Some 4,900 new claims were filed from Sunday to Tuesday, more than the previous six full weeks until March 7.

Maine Department of Labor spokesperson Jessica Picard said the number is a nearly 800 percent increase over the corresponding full week in 2019. That puts the claims for this full week on pace to eclipse the previous high of 5,634 set during the great recession from 2007 to 2009.

Gov. Janet Mills on Tuesday introduced emergency legislation that the Legislature passed to support businesses and workers affected economically by the coronavirus.

The legislation makes the state’s unemployment insurance program more flexible, for example, making employees whose business has closed temporarily but who plan to return to work when it reopens potentially eligible for unemployment benefits.

“It waives the one-week waiting period and the work-search requirement for those still employed,” said Fortman.

Not covered are independent contractors who don’t pay into the unemployment insurance trust fund.

However, Fortman said the federal government might provide disaster unemployment relief.

The Department of Labor on its website explains various scenarios for unemployment insurance for employers and employees.

Amy Bassett, state director of the Small Business Administration, said small businesses affected may qualify for working capital loans of up to $2 million with a fixed, low-interest rate for up to 30 years. Payment on loans is deferred for the first four months. Information is on the administration’s website.

She said 99 percent of Maine’s businesses are small and might qualify for the loans if they are creditworthy. Those who haven’t yet filed 2019 taxes can submit the previous three years of tax returns for the application.

“The SBA looks at the capital needs of the company and the economic injury.” Bassett said. “Working capital includes debt payments, payroll that needs to be met and lease payments. It does not include buying new equipment.”

Bassett said that even businesses with cash on hand may want to apply for the loans because it is unclear how long the emergency will last.

“No one knows the longevity or the real impact,” she said.

Watch: Symptoms of the coronavirus disease

 


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