A woman wears a mask to protect against the spread of the coronavirus Wednesday while walking by a hardware store in Sanford. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Maine saw new jobless claims fall last week as the state prepares to rollout a federal program providing expanded benefits for out-of-work Americans.

Mainers filed 2,800 jobless claims for the week of Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, according to data released Thursday by the Maine Department of Labor. Of those, 1,100 were for traditional state benefits and 1,700 were for benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program Congress approved in late March as part of a coronavirus-relief package.

That represents 1,500 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 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which extends benefits to those who traditionally don’t qualify for them, such as the self-employed or independent contractors.

Since March 15, Mainers have received $1.44 billion in jobless benefits, according to the Department of Labor. It paid out nearly $74 million in all of 2019.

The department said Thursday it will soon make the first round of weekly $300 payments to jobless workers under a new federal program. That program, created by an executive order from President Donald Trump, is funded through $44 billion from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund.

The department had estimated it would take three weeks to roll out the program, and benefits will be paid retroactively through Aug. 1 for eligible Mainers.

Those expanded federal benefits come weeks after an initial weekly $600 payment approved by Congress expired. Congress continues to remain stalemated over another coronavirus relief package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, said his chamber could soon vote on a $500 billion GOP relief package that includes aid for schools, money for vaccines and testing and a renewal of the Paycheck Protection Program, according to the Associated Press.

But Democrats have balked at the package, which is slimmed down from Republicans’ earlier $1 trillion proposal. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, blasted the new GOP package as “emaciated” and said that his caucus is unlikely to vote for the bill, CNN reports.

Additionally, Mainers filed 35,500 applications to continue receiving state jobless benefits and another 22,000 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. On top of that, 7,700 workers filed to renew benefits under the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment program, while 500 filed for state extended benefits.

That represents a slight decrease in continued jobless claims from the previous week, when 67,500 Mainers sought to renew benefits. But that still remains well above the high seen in April 2009 during the Great Recession, when 28,564 out-of-work Mainers sought to continue receiving jobless benefits.

Total new jobless claims over the past four weeks have totaled about 10,900. Jobless claims peaked the week ending April 4 at 30,899 new weekly claims. Those claims fell sharply to 13,421 for the week ending 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, 5,900 for the week ending June 13, 5,600 for the week ending June 20, 5,200 for the week ending June 27, 5,100 for the week ending July 4 8,000 for the week ending July 11, 3,800 for the week ending July 18, 2,600 for the week ending July 25, 2,070 for the week ending Aug. 1, 1,780 for the week ending Aug. 8, 2,500 for the week ending Aug. 15, 2,400 for the week ending Aug. 22 and 3,200 for the week ending Aug. 29.

Before new restrictions on businesses in the state took effect in March, 634 new jobless claims were filed for the week ending March 14, according to state data.

Mainers have filed more than 273,900 new jobless claims since March 15. New claims through mid-June 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 13,383; retail, with 8,225; health care and social assistance, with 8,160; and manufacturing, with 4,677, according to the Department of Labor.

On Thursday, labor officials said that 350 new and 50 continued jobless claims were canceled due to fraud for the week ending Sept. 5. Since May 30, more than 30,000 new and nearly 50,000 continued claims have been determined to be fraudulent, according to the Department of Labor.

Maine’s unemployment rate rose to 9.9 percent in July from 6.6 percent in June. That compares with about 3 percent in March and 2.9 percent a year ago. The economic slump brought on by the coronavirus pandemic ended a 39-month streak of unemployment below 4 percent.

Nationally, 884,000 Americans filed new jobless claims for the week ended Sept. 5, which was unchanged from the previous week’s revised total, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. About 13.6 million Americans remain out of work, with as many as 1.6 million having been jobless for 17 weeks or more, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The national jobless rate fell to 8.4 percent in August as the U.S. economy added 1.4 million jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week. That’s down from 10.2 percent in July. 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.

Gains in employment were fueled by government hiring for the 2020 census, as well as in the retail, leisure and hospitality, and education and health service industries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.