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Unemployment benefits delivered to Maine workers during pandemic expected to surpass $1 billion within the next week

The Maine Department of Labor is also continuing to work with its state and federal law enforcement partners to investigate criminal unemployment imposter fraud.

MAINE, USA — Between March 15 and June 27, the Maine Department of Labor (MDOL) has seen about 165,000 initial claims for the state unemployment program and 74,600 initial claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.

There have been over 1.4 million weekly certifications filed, and the department has paid out more than $957 million in federal and state unemployment benefits. According to the department, benefits to Maine workers delivered by the department during the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to surpass $1 billion within the next week.

At 11 a.m. on Thursday, MDOL Commissioner Laura Fortman and Deputy Commissioner Kimberly Smith will hold a legislative briefing via Zoom, to give an update on the department's work on unemployment.

This briefing for legislators will be live-streamed for public viewing on the department’s Facebook page (Maine Department of Labor - @MElabor). It will also be recorded and posted online for public viewing afterward.

Unemployment claims continue to go down as Maine continues its phased reopening of businesses. For the week ending June 27, MDOL recorded about 3,000 initial claims filed for state unemployment insurance, and an additional 2,200 initial claims filed for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). These claims represent about 4,100 individuals filing an initial claim.

About 62,300 weekly certifications, or continued claims, were filed last week for state unemployment. In addition, about 28,000 weekly certifications were filed under PUA. Weekly certifications must be filed by claimants every week in order to continue to receive unemployment benefits. MDOL notes that data is preliminary and subject to revision.

RELATED: Maine Dept. of Labor announces 13 additional weeks of unemployment benefits available

“As we see the economy reopening, we want to make sure that people are aware of MDOL services to help Mainers re-enter the workforce,” Commissioner Laura Fortman said. “With the work search waiver coming to an end July 11 for those who are not connected to an employer, now is the time to sign up for the free Maine JobLink, look into CareerCenter services such as resume building and training information, and begin thinking about their next steps.”

MDOL also says it continues its careful review of all claims as it investigates unemployment imposter fraud. Unemployment imposter fraud is when a person’s Personally Identifiable Information, or PII, is stolen and used illegally to apply for unemployment benefits. Maine is one of many U.S. states working in close collaboration with state and federal law enforcement and regulatory agencies to investigate and prevent it.

During the week ending June 27, MDOL cancelled about 720 initial claims and 3,000 weekly certifications suspected of being fraudulent.

“Between week ending May 30 through week ending June 27, the Department has cancelled roughly 24,600 initial claims and 44,000 weekly certifications that were determined to be fraudulent,” Fortman said. “We continue to refine the fraud filters so that we prevent fraudulent claims while at the same time provide the least disruption for Maine people who need these funds.”

To date, the department has received roughly 26,100 reports of unemployment imposter fraud, some of which are duplicates if both the employee and employer reported the fraud. The department has also reinstated almost 11,000 claims to legitimate claimants that had been flagged for potential fraud.

The extent of potential unemployment imposter fraud remains under investigation.

The department encourages anyone who believes that someone else has used their or their employee’s personal information to file a fraudulent unemployment application to notify the Department immediately using this form: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/idtheft/.

RELATED: US adds 4.8 million jobs as unemployment falls to 11.1%

Data on initial and continued claims, benefits paid, contributions received, the balance of the unemployment insurance trust fund, as well as other information, is available at https://www.maine.gov/labor/cwri/ui.html.

If you have not yet applied, you can do so at www.maine.gov/unemployment. 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 of Labor recommends filing your claims online with a computer, as opposed to a smartphone, and during evening hours when internet traffic is less congested. The Department has implemented an alphabetical call in schedule to help reduce phone line congestion as the Department 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.

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Phone lines are open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and may be reached at 1-800-593-7660. Roughly 2,000 calls are answered per day. Those who are unable to connect with a claims representative should submit a message at www.maine.gov/labor/contact.

For more information and resources, visit the Department’s unemployment page: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment.

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