AUGUSTA, Maine — The more than 30,000 Mainers who were receiving benefits through federal unemployment programs will see a lapse of at least a week.
The Maine Department of Labor must restart three federal programs — one which ended in late July and two that lapsed for just a day — after President Donald Trump delayed signing the bipartisan bill amid a showdown with Congress over a general spending bill. Trump signed the $900 billion stimulus bill Sunday.
For Mainers who have been receiving federal unemployment benefits, there will be “at least a one week delay” while the Maine Department of Labor works to implement the new law, Commissioner Laura Fortman said Monday. The agency is working to provide benefits “as quickly as possible,” she said.
The department struggled to process a high volume of unemployment claims at the start of the pandemic, leading some claimants to see their benefits delayed for months. Such a scenario is less likely this time around, as the number of new claims each week is lower and the three federal programs need to be restarted, but are not entirely new as they were in the spring.
The stimulus package extends two federal unemployment programs, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which had expired Dec. 26. It also provides an additional $300 per week to individuals receiving state or federal unemployment.
The extra $300, though not immediately available, should be payable beginning Dec. 27, the department said Monday. But the agency is asking its federal counterpart whether the first payable week of the PUA and PEUC programs will be this week or the week ending Jan. 9, spokesperson Jessica Picard said. A few other states, including New Hampshire, also said Monday that they are waiting for federal guidance on when benefits will be payable.
A delay in benefits may have been inevitable given the last-minute nature of the bill, as Maine DOL said last week it would have to wait for instructions after the bill was signed no matter what. But the uncertainty over the first payable week of benefits came from Trump’s delay in signing the bill until after the previous unemployment programs had expired.
The agency is advising unemployed workers who were receiving benefits under the federal programs to continue to file weekly certifications even if they do not have an active claim, which should speed up payments once the federal programs are back in place. All three programs will run through Mar. 13, while certain claimants will be allowed to stay on through Apr. 3.