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New jobless claims in Maine have fallen below the peak seen during the Great Recession as more Mainers return to work amid relaxing coronavirus restrictions.
Mainers submitted about 5,600 new jobless claims to the state for the week of June 14 to June 20, according to new data released by the Maine Department of Labor on Thursday morning. Of those, about 2,900 were for traditional state benefits, while another 2,700 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 4,500 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 $882 million in jobless benefits, according to the Department of Labor. It paid $77 million in all of 2019.
Additionally, Mainers filed 64,400 applications to continue receiving state jobless benefits and another 26,400 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.
Continued claims still remain well above their peak — 29,904 — in April 2009 during the Great Recession, state data show.
Thursday’s report comes as Maine continues to roll back restrictions that shuttered businesses and public places to halt the spread of the respiratory virus that has infected more than 3,000 Mainers and killed more than 100. Retail stores and restaurants have been allowed to reopen, with restrictions, across the state, though indoor service at bars will remain banned indefinitely. Movie theaters, indoor and outdoor amusements and performing arts venues can reopen on July 1, but will be limited to 50 patrons at a time.
“We continue to see lower numbers of claims being filed. We believe that this trend will continue as businesses continue to reopen and the economy improves,” Maine’s labor commissioner, Laura Fortman, said in a statement.
Total jobless claims over the past four weeks have totaled about 42,700. 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, 6,700 for the week ending June 6 and 5,900 for the week ending June 13.
Mainers have filed more than 234,400 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.
Even as new jobless claims have descended from the dizzying heights seen during the early weeks of the pandemic, about 29,000 Mainers continue to wait for financial assistance, even though some have been without work since Democratic Gov. Janet Mills ordered nonessential businesses closed in March.
Those delays come as 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 Department of Labor said it canceled 1,900 new and 4,300 continued fraudulent jobless claims for the week ending June 20. Since late May, it has canceled 23,900 new and 41,000 continued claims believed to be fraudulent.
“In light of extensive identity theft and unemployment fraud being investigated across the country, the Maine Department of Labor is holding claims that are potentially fraudulent,” Fortman said in a statement. “We recognize that some legitimate claims are being held as part of this crucial effort. We are working as quickly as possible to separate the valid claims from claims filed by criminals. To date, we have reinstated about 9,700 claims to hardworking Mainers.”
Maine’s unemployment rate fell last month to 9.3 percent, down from 10.6 percent in April. That compares with about 3 percent in March and February and 3 percent a year ago. The economic slump brought on by the coronavirus ended a 39-month streak of unemployment below 4 percent.
Nationally, 1.48 million Americans filed jobless claims for the week ending June 20, down 60,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 1.5 million 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 unexpectedly to 13.3 percent in May. That is still well above February’s 3.5 percent, a nearly 50-year low.