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Jobless claims fell last week as the state began clamping down on rising fraudulent filings as the economic toll from the coronavirus fuels unprecedented demand for aid.
About 24,500 new jobless claims were filed with the state for the week of May 24 to May 30, according to new data released by the Maine Department of Labor on Thursday morning. Of those, 11,122 claims were for traditional state jobless benefits, while another 13,500 were for benefits under a new federal program, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, that Congress approved as part of a coronavirus-relief package in late March.
That represents 16,500 individuals 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 the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
Since March 15, Mainers have received about $650 million in jobless benefits, according to the Department of Labor.
Thursday’s report comes a week after a spike in jobless claims stoked suspicions that “a significant number” of them were linked to fraud. The department said last week that state and federal agencies are working to investigate the apparent rise in fraudulent jobless claims at a time when a rising demand for aid is stressing the state’s unemployment system.
The Department of Labor said Thursday it is reviewing all claims as it works to clamp down on fraud.
“The Department of Labor is committed to maintaining the integrity of Maine’s unemployment system and, alongside our partners, fighting fraud and defending innocent Maine people from scammers trying to exploit them,” Maine’s labor commissioner, Laura Fortman, said in a statement. “We know these benefits are a lifeline for many Maine people during this unprecedented time, and the Department will work as hard as we can to distribute benefits as quickly as we can while we continue to combat this criminal activity.”
Mainers have filed 162,000 applications to continue receiving state jobless benefits and another 55,000 to continue receiving benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
Total jobless claims over the past four weeks have totaled 91,183. Jobless claims peaked the week of March 29 to April 4 at 30,899 new weekly claims. Those claims fell sharply to 13,421 for the week of April 5 to 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 and 37,000 for the week ending May 23.
More than 229,304 jobless claims have been filed for state and federal benefits since March 15. New claims each week since then have 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 17,867; health care and social assistance, with 11,680; retail, with 11,550; and manufacturing, with 7,190, according to the Department of Labor.
Maine’s unemployment rose last month to 10.6 percent, compared with about 3 percent in March and February and 3.1 percent a year ago. That ended a 39-month streak of unemployment below 4 percent.
Nationally, 1.8 million Americans filed jobless claims for the week ending May 30, down 249,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 2.1 million, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Since the outbreak began, 42.7 million Americans have sought jobless benefits to weather the economic slowdown.
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose 0.5 percentage points to 14.8 percent for the week ending May 30, the U.S. Department of Labor said.
Watch: Maine CDC press conference, June 3