AUGUSTA, Maine — State lawmakers are set to meet to discuss the current issues facing Maine's unemployment system Wednesday as thousands of Mainers still cannot access the benefits they need amid the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The Maine Legislature's Labor and Housing Committee will be briefed by Commissioner Laura Fortman.
According to the department, over $200 million has been distributed to more than 70,000 Mainers already. 30,000 more are still looking for answers.
"People need relief and help now," Sen. Justin Chenette (D-Saco) told NEWS CENTER Maine. "I don't necessarily fault any individual. I think now is the time to come together, collaborate and have some sort of transparency and accountability in the system."
Chenette said he plans to discuss a number of possible solutions, including hiring more people, creating private-public partnerships will call centers in the state, and re-directing staff from other state agencies.
The meeting comes as some are going on eight weeks without work and without pay.
"It has been a roller coaster," Carla Heisten said.
Heisten, a self-employed massage therapist, is among the countless Mainers who were not eligible to apply for unemployment until just last week when Maine implement changes through the federal CARES Act and expanded benefits.
In the first four hours after the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program was implemented, the online system processed more than 3,000 applications, according to MDOL,
"It took me five hours to fill out the form," Heisten said.
After several attempts, she said she finally completed the application. She said there was no confirmation it went through and her account displayed all zeros.
Heisten said she then had to try calling the department 11 times to get answers.
"I finally got through," she said. "I'm going to wait seven to ten days and hope magic money fairy comes and drops the money in my account like the guy said it would."
Officials with the Dept. of Labor were not available for an interview.
In a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine, the Department confirmed that claimants whose claims do not require further review by unemployment specialists should begin receiving their benefits within seven days of when they filed.
“We recognize the frustration that those who have not received benefits yet are feeling,” MDOL Commissioner Laura Fortman said in the statement. “MDOL is working hard to get eligible Maine people the benefits they deserve, as fast as possible. With the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program now implemented, thousands of those who have been waiting will soon see relief. It is the Department’s goal to ensure that every Maine person gets every benefit they are entitled to.”
The Labor and Housing Committee meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday and can be streamed live here.
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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