AUGUSTA, Maine — The new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program began accepting applications on Friday.
In response to the hardships brought on by coronavirus pandemic, the PUA is a new federal program that expands eligibility for unemployment benefits to workers who are typically not able to receive unemployment, such as self-employed workers, farmers and fishermen, independent contractors, gig workers, nonprofit employees, and workers who don’t have enough work history and earnings.
The Maine Department of Labor (MDOL) said they processed over 3,000 applications by noon on Friday, and that thousands more are expected to be processed over the weekend. U.S. rules prohibit detailed disclosure of claim numbers except in the weekly reports, which come out every Thursday morning.
MDOL says they are continuing to monitor the system to optimize performance, but the increased web traffic has caused slower response times. The department urges filers to use a desktop or a laptop when filing instead of a mobile device. The Department has contracted with a Maine-based call center to help with claim assistance. MDOL says there are 100 people answering calls, compared to 13 they had available in mid-March.
PUA will be available until December 2020, and all payments are retroactive to the date of loss of employment. Claims can be filed at any time, including on weekends.
PUA benefits start at 50% of the average weekly state unemployment benefit for self-employed and those who do not meet monetary eligibility for regular unemployment. In Maine, this is $172/week.
For those who are self-employed, the Department must first verify documented earnings, and PUA benefits may be adjusted retroactively. The maximum benefit available under PUA is $445/week.
In addition, anyone who receives a PUA benefit also receives the full $600 additional weekly benefit from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program which is available for claims filed through the week ending July 25, 2020.
To expedite the benefits process, claimants are not required at this time to attest to their earnings or send the Department paper or electronic copies of documents showing their earnings. Benefits will be paid prior to verification of income. The Department will let claimants know later in May when these documents should be uploaded to finalize their claims.
Claimants who have already been denied for traditional state unemployment benefits because they were ineligible based on their prior earnings, or because they are self-employed and filed before PUA became available, will have their applications automatically rolled into PUA.
To apply for unemployment, visit www.maine.gov/unemployment. For assistance, you can call 1-800-593-7660 between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday-Friday.
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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus
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