Maine saw the highest number of new unemployment claims since the summer last week, reflecting continued hardship with federal relief uncertain after President Donald Trump plunged a stimulus deal passed by Congress on Tuesday into doubt.
The Maine Department of Labor reported new or reopened claims from roughly 3,700 people last week, with the number of new claims between state and federal programs reaching the highest number since early July.
About 30,500 people received benefits for two federal unemployment programs last week, while another 14,300 received state benefits. Both federal programs will end on Dec. 26 unless a stimulus bill, which passed both houses of Congress easily this week, is signed before then.
Congress had been deadlocked over a relief bill for months, but leaders reached an agreement last week on a $900 billion stimulus deal that would extend both federal unemployment programs for 11 weeks, provide an additional $300 per week to anyone receiving unemployment benefits, provide one-time checks to most Americans and provide more small business loans.
But Trump threw a wrench in that plan Tuesday night, criticizing the bill over some foreign aid provisions from an omnibus spending bill passed at the same time and calling for $2,000 stimulus checks instead of the $600 payments the bill currently offers.
Even if Trump signs the bill, people getting federal unemployment benefits may still see a lapse in payments as the state would need to wait for federal guidance to implement the new law. The Maine DOL is encouraging unemployment claimants to continue to file claims regardless in order to expedite retroactive payments if a bill is passed later.
Maine typically sees an increase in unemployment claims at this time of year due to seasonal layoffs. This week’s uptick may also reflect a stalling economic recovery after the state’s economy initially seemed to bounce back quickly from coronavirus-related shutdowns in the spring. Only about 60 percent of the jobs lost in March and April have been recovered so far, according to state data, and job growth was slower this fall compared to the summer.