AUGUSTA, Maine — Since the Maine Department of Labor began accepting applications for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program on Friday, May 1, it has processed unemployment benefit payments for about 15,400 Mainers under the new program.
PUA provides benefits for those not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits, such as those who are self-employed or do not have enough earnings.
“On Thursday, April 30, I made the announcement that we would begin accepting PUA applications the next day, and that PUA claimants whose claims did not require further review would begin receiving their benefits within seven days of filing their initial claim and first weekly certification,” Commissioner Laura Fortman said. “I am pleased that a week later, thousands of Mainers who were not eligible for traditional state unemployment are receiving these essential funds to help support themselves and their families.”
Since the new program was implemented on May 1, the department has enrolled over 20,000 people into PUA. This includes those who were not eligible for state unemployment and were being automatically enrolled.
The department reminds all claimants that receiving benefits is a two-step process: after the initial claim is filed, a weekly certification must be filed every week, on any day Sunday-Saturday, in order to receive benefits.
The amount that has been paid in benefits will be included in Thursday’s weekly claims data release.
Benefit payments are retroactive. The additional weekly $600 created by the new Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program is retroactive to the week ending April 4, and is available through July 25, 2020. In the coming weeks, the department will be sending emails to those who are self-employed with instructions on how to upload their tax documentation.
The Maine Department of Labor said the ReEmployME system is working as designed and processing an unprecedented number of claims. With the implementation of PUA, the department set up a second phone line specifically for these claims and questions, in addition to the regular 1-800 phone line. The department has been talking to about 1,800 people a day by phone.
PUA is a new federal program which expands eligibility for unemployment benefits to certain categories of workers not typically able to receive unemployment in the past, such as those who are self-employed and who do not have enough earnings to be eligible for state unemployment.
If you have not yet applied, you can do so at www.maine.gov/unemployment. The Maine Department of Labor said to follow these steps:
Click on the ReEmployME icon in the bottom left of the page. You will be prompted to create a claimant account, after which you can submit an unemployment claim and file your weekly certifications. Don’t forget to verify your email address and sign up for direct deposit. There is no separate application for PUA. The application process will make the determination of whether you are eligible for state or PUA benefits based on your answers to questions. PUA benefits are available to anyone who is self-employed and does not receive W2 wages, regardless of the profitability of your business.
The department recommends that people file their claims online with a computer as opposed to a smartphone and do so in the evening when internet traffic is less. The department has implemented an alphabetical call in schedule to help reduce phone line congestion as it ramps up its capacity to receive and process claims. Last names beginning with A-H should call on Monday, I-Q on Tuesday; and R-Z on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday are left unassigned for those who miss their alphabetical day or need to call at that time.
As the department continues to expand the number of people taking calls, the call-in hours have been extended to 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. Those who are unable to connect with a claims representative by calling 1-800-593-7660 before 3 p.m. Monday through Friday should submit a message at www.maine.gov/labor/contact.
The Department has also created a phone line specifically for PUA questions and claims, available from 8 a.m.- 3 p.m. Monday-Friday: 1-888-413-0820.