The crew on a lobster boat hauls traps at sunrise off Portland in this Sept. 21, 2020, file photo. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Maine saw a slight bump in new jobless claims last week as House Democrats prepared to vote on a new $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package.

Mainers filed 2,800 jobless claims for the week of Sept. 20 to 26, according to data released Thursday by the Maine Department of Labor. Of those, 1,600 were for traditional state benefits and 1,200 were for benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program Congress approved in late March as part of a coronavirus-relief package.

That represents 2,300 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.

Additionally, Mainers filed nearly 53,900 applications to continue receiving jobless benefits: 24,400 for state jobless benefits, 17,900 for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, 10,700 for the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment program and 900 for state extended benefits.

That represents a slight decrease in continued jobless claims from the previous week, when 54,900 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.

Since March 15, Mainers have received $1.57 billion in jobless benefits, according to the Department of Labor. It paid out nearly $74 million in all of 2019.

The department said Thursday that work-search requirements will be reinstated for all jobless Mainers starting Sunday. Previously, only those Mainers who were permanently separated from their employers needed to show they were actively looking for work to continue receiving jobless benefits.

Only those under medical quarantine due to possible coronavirus exposure will be exempt from the work-search requirement.

That comes as more Maine businesses have reopened and are searching for workers. Maine’s economy has rebounded more quickly than any other state. The state’s economy is operating at about 96 percent of its pre-pandemic capacity, compared with 81 percent nationally, according to an index compiled by CNN Business and Moody’s Analytics.

The U.S. House of Representatives was expected to vote Thursday on a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package that includes money to keep jobless workers and state and local governments afloat during the prolonged pandemic. The decision to vote comes after Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave congressional negotiators one more day to reach an agreement on a new relief package, according to Politico.


Talks have been bogged down for weeks as Republicans and Democrats sparred over the package’s price tag and provisions providing additional aid to jobless workers, among other points of contention.

The House bill, though, is likely to meet a cool reception in the Senate, where Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called any thought that his caucus could support its price tag “outlandish,” according to Politico.

Total new jobless claims over the past four weeks have totaled about 10,600. 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, 3,200 for the week ending Aug. 29, 2,800 for the week ending Sept. 5, 2,400 for the week ending Sept. 12 and 2,600 for the week ending Sept. 19.

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 281,600 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 8,593; retail, with 6,072; health care and social assistance, with 5,745; and manufacturing, with 3,123, according to the Department of Labor.

On Thursday, labor officials said that 23,600 new and one continued jobless claims were canceled due to fraud for the week ending Sept. 26. Since May 30, more than 53,000 new and nearly 50,000 continued claims have been determined to be fraudulent, according to the Department of Labor.

Maine’s unemployment rate fell to 6.9 percent in August from 9.9 percent in July. 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, 837,000 Americans filed new jobless claims for the week ending Sept. 26, which was down 36,000 from the previous week’s revised total of 870,000, 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. 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 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.