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New jobless claims continue to slide from the dizzying heights seen during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, a sign that the state’s economy is slowly returning to normal.
Mainers submitted 5,900 new jobless claims to the state for the week of June 7 to June 13, according to new data released by the Maine Department of Labor on Thursday morning. Of those, about 3,000 were for traditional state benefits, while another 2,900 were for benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a new federal program approved by Congress as part of a coronavirus-relief package in late March.
That represents 4,850 people 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 $807 million in jobless benefits, according to the Department of Labor. It paid $77 million in all of 2019.
Additionally, Mainers filed 66,700 applications to continue receiving state jobless benefits and another 23,800 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.
“While we recognize that too many people are still struggling to make ends meet, we believe that these lower claims numbers reflect an improvement as the economy begins to reopen,” Maine’s labor commissioner, Laura Fortman, said in a Thursday statement. “We look forward to seeing the unemployment rate for May, which will be released tomorrow, in order to get a deeper understanding of what is happening in the economy.”
The state continues to monitor for fraudulent filings after a spike in false claims last month prompted the cancellation of tens of thousands of suspected fraudulent claims. The effort to halt fraudulent filings also prompted a slowdown in processing applications and delays in benefits at a time of unprecedented need.
On Thursday, the Maine Department of Labor said it canceled 3,500 new and 8,400 continued jobless claims for the week ending June 13 it determined to be fraudulent. The department has received more than 21,400 reports of suspected fraud, but the extent of the fraud remains unknown.
Fortman said her agency has doubled to 30 the number of law enforcement officers working with it to investigate fraud. That includes reviewing documents Mainers submit to verify their identity and eligibility for aid.
“We regret that some people with legitimate claims must take this extra step to receive their benefits, but it is necessary to do this verification in order to ensure that criminals stealing innocent people’s personal information are not receiving money meant for the people of Maine,” Fortman said in a statement.
Total jobless claims over the past four weeks have totaled about 74,100. 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, 37,000 for the week ending May 23, 24,500 for the week ending May 30 and 6,700 for the week ending June 6.
Mainers have filed more than 229,000 jobless claims 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 20,960; retail, with 15,057; health care and social assistance, with 14,869; and manufacturing, with 7,299, 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, 1.5 million Americans filed jobless claims for the week ending June 13, down 58,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 1.54 million, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Since the outbreak began, more than 40 million Americans have sought jobless benefits to weather the economic slowdown.
The national jobless rate peaked at 14.7 percent in April before falling unexpected to 13.3 percent in May. That is still well above February’s 3.5 percent, a nearly 50-year low.