approval would temporarily add $300 to weekly unemployment benefits

Maine to apply for federal program to increase unemployment benefits

Mon, 08/24/2020 - 8:45am

    AUGUSTA — The Maine Department of Labor announced Friday it will apply for Lost Wages Assistance funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which would temporarily add $300 to the weekly unemployment benefits of eligible unemployed Mainers if approved.

    This funding was made available to states by Presidential Memorandum on August 8 after an additional $600 weekly unemployment benefit authorized by Congress expired on July 31.

    The Memorandum directs FEMA to make available up to $44 billion from its Disaster Relief Fund for financial assistance to Americans who have lost wages due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    If Maine is approved for the program, FEMA is expected to initially provide full funding for three weeks of benefits and then, upon request, funding on a weekly basis thereafter for as long as the available funds last, per a news release. 

    Per Presidential Memorandum, the program is set to expire on December 27, 2020.

    "We know that many families are struggling in the midst of this unprecedented economic hardship, through no fault of their own, and that continued financial support is critical to their security and stability," said Governor Janet Mills. Our Administration will do whatever we can to put money into the pockets of Maine people and get them through these difficult times, but it is clear that Congress and the Administration in Washington must step up to replace short-term measures like this with a serious and comprehensive coronavirus relief package that supports Maine families and small businesses.

    The Maine Department of Labor (Maine DOL) will administer the Lost Wages Assistance benefits. The Department plans to submit its application to FEMA for approval by early next week. Because the program utilizes disaster relief funding through FEMA, outside of the unemployment insurance system and the three new programs created by Congress, Maine DOL will need to stand up an entirely new program to administer the benefits. The Department estimates this process will take approximately three weeks, after which it will be able to begin issuing the benefit.

    Since the beginning of the COVID-19 State of Civil Emergency on March 15, the Department has launched three entirely new federal unemployment programs, processed 98 percent of the claims it has received, and delivered nearly $1.4 billion in benefits to Maine people.

    A recent analysis by the Century Foundation found that Maine distributed benefits in March and April faster than all but five other states, per a news release. 

    "With tens of thousands of hard-working Maine people unemployed, we will find a way to deliver these disaster relief funds, said Commissioner Laura Fortman. However, another band-aid program will not be adequate to support Maine people over the long-term. We will work diligently to implement this program and distribute payments once we're approved and have the funds from FEMA.

    Per current guidance from FEMA and the U.S. Department of Labor, individuals are eligible for Lost Wages Assistance if:

    • they are eligible for unemployment benefits

    • they are eligible for a weekly benefit of at least $100

    • they are unemployed, or are partially unemployed, as a direct result of the COVID-19.

    Once funds are allocated to Maine, benefits would be paid retroactively starting with the week ending August 1. The payments will be made automatically based on unemployment claims received; individuals will not need to call or apply separately for this benefit.