A Mainer who has experienced a layoff or seen a significant reduction in hours is eligible to apply for unemployment insurance (UI). After they have exhausted their UI benefits, they will be eligible for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). Following this, they will be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
A self-employed person or an independent contractor who has experienced loss of income since the Coronavirus pandemic began will likely be eligible for PUA. The one-week waiting period for all types of unemployment benefits has been waived.
Maine's Weekly Benefit Amount
For new unemployment claims filed on or after June 1, 2020, the minimum weekly benefit amount (WBA) in Maine is $80, and the maximum weekly benefit amount is $462. For claims that were active before this date, the minimum WBA is $77 and the maximum WBA is $445.
The processing time for initial unemployment claims is 10 to 14 days. The Maine Department of Labor (MDOL) reinstated its regular processing time to reduce incidents of fraud. The processing time had been shorter in 2020 because of the demands of the COVID-19 crisis.
There are two options to receive payment from the Maine Department of Labor: direct deposit and U.S. Bank’s Visa debit card. MDOL recommends direct deposit as the faster method. A claimant should allow one to two business days after the date shown on their weekly certification for payment to appear on their debit card or bank account.
Unemployment Insurance Benefits
A Mainer is eligible for UI if they lost their job through no fault of their own, are actively seeking work and are able and available to work. They must have enough work history and earnings in the prior five calendar quarters to establish eligibility. This means having earned at least $1,700 a quarter in at least two of the last five quarters and at least $5,600 in four of the last five quarters. An individual can claim up to 26 weeks of UI. Since UI is a state program, the 26 weeks may extend past the expiration of federal pandemic-related relief ending September 4, 2021.
Pandemic Emergency Compensation
The PEUC program provides up to 53 weeks of benefits through September 4, 2021. The American Rescue Plan Act, passed in January 2021, increased the number of weeks from 24 to 53. If an individual is already collecting PEUC, they do not need to make changes regarding their claim.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
PUA claimants are eligible for 79 weeks of benefits through September 4, 2021. Certain individuals will be eligible for a $100 Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) payment in addition to their regular weekly benefit amount. Maine fishermen and lobstermen who are self-employed or independent contractors are eligible for unemployment benefits through PUA. A claimant for PUA is required to upload their tax information to show proof of eligibility.
What Counts as Earnings
MDOL will count monies received during a leave of absence from work as pay. A claimant must also report pay from sick leave, vacation pay and regular wages to MDOL when claiming unemployment benefits. An individual who earned $5 or more than their weekly benefit amount will not be eligible for unemployment benefits for that week. An individual who receives a pension during a week that is in excess of their WBA is not eligible for unemployment benefits for that week.
Call for Help
MDOL has seen a sharp increase in the number of calls since the start of the pandemic. It has set up an alphabetical call-in schedule to reach claims representatives at 800-593-7660. For example, a person with a last name that begins with A through H should call on Monday, I through Q on Tuesday, and R through Z on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday are for individuals who miss their day or need to call at a later point in the week.
MDOL has extended its call-in hours so that call-in hours are now 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Previously, the call-in hours ended at 12:15 p.m.
File Weekly Certifications
In its UI FAQs on COVID-19, MDOL recommends that claimants avoid filing weekly certifications on Sunday and Monday because these days are extremely busy. The high call volume can place stress on MDOL’s system. When an individual first files a claim, it can take several days for the claim to show up on their account. The claimant should expect a potential delay and take a screenshot or print their final confirmation page as proof that MDOL has received their claim.
Work Search Requirement
An individual who is claiming any type of unemployment benefits is required to do a weekly work search. The work search requirement for claimants permanently separated from their employer was reinstated on August 9, 2020. The work search requirement for claimants who are self employed and for those workers planning on returning to their employer took effect on October 4, 2020.
The work search requirement has been reinstated for all unemployment claimants, including self-employed people and independent contractors. The only exception to the requirement is for individuals who are in medical quarantine due to potential exposure to the coronavirus.
Definition of Work Search
A work search is defined as applying and interviewing for jobs, and skill development, which are activities that enhance a candidate’s marketability. A claimant is required to participate in at least one activity per week and should maintain documentation of their activities. MDOL engages in random audits of job seekers. Not participating in work search activities results in a denial of benefits for that week.
Acceptable activities are: attending a job fair or virtual job fair hosted by a CareerCenter, including a drive-through hiring event; participating in CareerCenter virtual reemployment services and a CareerCenter virtual workshop; interviewing and/or applying for a job for which the individual is reasonably qualified; contacting an employer to ask if the employer is hiring; participating in professional job-related education or skills development; participating in networking events related to a job or occupation for which the individual is reasonably qualified; and working part time.
Browsing the internet or JobLink to find leads does not count as a work search activity. An individual working with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation on job-related education or skills development activities can count this involvement as a work search-related activity. Options for professional training include using the Digital Maine Library, taking a Coursera course, and learning a foreign language that is frequently used in Maine, such as French or Spanish.
Help With Work Searches
MDOL provides employment development services through Maine CareerCenter. An unemployed claimant must have an active account on Maine JobLink. This tool allows an applicant to post a résumé, search for a job or training opportunity, or research the labor market. MDOL holds virtual JobLink workshops multiple times a week at 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Work Search Waivers
An employee whose employer has given them a definite return-to-work date within six weeks qualifies for a six-week work search waiver. During the six-week period, the employee does not need to participate in work search activities, but if the date is unknown to MDOL, the employee must participate in such activities. These can include options beyond applying and interviewing for other jobs.
Self-Employed Must Reopen Business
An individual who is self-employed must provide evidence of taking steps to fully reopen their business. They can take actions like market their business, attend networking events, participate in workshops relevant to their business or meet with the Office of Business Development to learn about resources available to small businesses. If they do not plan to remain self-employed, they must perform a work search or work search-related activity.
Claimants With Children
An individual who has children at home because the children are engaged in virtual learning or who does not have childcare is still required to participate in work search activities. They should explore options that can be done from home online or over the phone, such as interviewing with an employer or participating in a virtual job fair hosted by a CareerCenter. The Maine Department of Education has designated all 16 counties in the state as green. This means it gave public schools the go-ahead to reopen for full-time instruction.
Maine's WorkShare Program
Maine's WorkShare program allows employers to retain their employees by temporarily slowing down work. The employer reduces the hours of their staff by 10 to 50 percent instead of laying them off. The employees can then collect a partial unemployment benefit to offset their reduction in pay.
In order to be eligible for WorkShare, the employee must have earned enough wages in the prior 18 months to meet the regular qualifications for UI. The employee also must be able and available to work their normally scheduled hours during the work slowdown.
File an Appeal
A claimant who wants to appeal a decision regarding their benefits must provide MDOL with their Social Security number and the year their benefits end. They are required to file the appeal within 15 calendar days of the mailing date of the decision and should continue to file their weekly certification if they are unemployed. A claimant can file an appeal online through the ReEmployME system, by email at Admin.Hearings@Maine.gov, by calling 207-621-5001, or by fax at 207-287-5949. They should not send their appeal by mail or hand deliver it to a MDOL office.
Unemployment Fraud Concerns
An individual who does not report wages earned but continues to collect UI or other unemployment benefits is committing UI fraud. They could lose their eligibility to collect UI benefits currently and in the future. They could also be required to repay the benefits they collected plus penalties and interest, as well as face prosecution. When the MDOL detects an improper payment, it will notify the claimant that they have received an overpayment. The claimant should then communicate with MDOL to resolve the issue.
Many Mainers collecting unemployment benefits have also been the victim of identity fraud, called Unemployment Imposter Fraud. To avoid being the victim of a scam, a claimant should use only MDOL’s official website to apply for unemployment benefits. They should not pay any third party to process their unemployment benefits claim and should not respond to calls or emails that request personal information. MDOL asks for information through official correspondence containing its letterhead, and through a claimant’s ReEmployME account.
A claimant who is the victim of an incident of fraud should report their concern to MDOL. The claimant will not have to repay the money that MDOL paid to the fraudulent individual and will be able to receive unemployment benefits if needed. The claimant should also consider filing a police report regarding the fraud.
Employers Can Report Work Refusals
MDOL encourages employers to report former employees who refuse to return to work. MDOL will engage in fact-finding after receiving such a report. Its goal is to determine whether the former employee had good cause to refuse work. If no good cause is determined, the claimant will not be eligible for unemployment benefits. If the employer chose not to follow established COVID-19 safety protocols pertinent to the employer’s industry, this will be evidence of good cause to refuse work.
- Maine Department of Labor: Unemployment Insurance
- Maine JobLink: Homepage
- Maine Department of Labor: Maine CareerCenter
- Maine Department of Labor: WorkShare
- Maine Department of Labor: Appeals
- Maine Department of Labor: Unemployment Insurance FAQs Regarding COVID-19
- Maine Department of Labor: CareerCenter, Hiring Events
- Maine Department of Labor: Work Search Requirement
- Maine Department of Labor: Governor Mills Signs Executive Order Reinstating Work Search Requirements for All Unemployment Claimants Beginning Oct. 4
- Maine Department of Labor: Tips for Filing Unemployment
- Maine Department of Labor: Claimants Frequently Asked Questions
- Maine Department of Labor: Federal Unemployment Programs Extended by American Rescue Plan
- Maine Department of Education: Framework for Reopening Schools and Returning to In-Person Instruction, Part I
- Maine Department of Labor: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance: How to Upload Tax Information to ReEmployME
- Maine Department of Labor: Fraud Information
- Maine Department of Labor: File for Unemployment FAQs
- Maine Department of Labor: Unemployment Imposter Fraud
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.