AUGUSTA — Barring action from Congress, about 4,000 Mainers who receive extended unemployment benefits will lose those benefits after Dec. 28, 2013.
The Maine Department of Labor, which administers the state’s unemployment benefits system, is urging those people to plan ahead.
Maine’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate in October was 6.7 percent, the lowest figure since November 2008, according to preliminary estimates the labor department released Friday morning. The state’s unemployment rate fell from 6.9 percent in September and 7.2 percent in October 2012. The federal unemployment rate in October was 7.3 percent.
Gov. Paul LePage on Friday touted the fact that Maine’s unemployment rate is below the national rate.
“We have been working hard for three years to improve the business climate in Maine so our companies can do what they do best: create jobs,” he said in a statement. “We have reduced taxes, cut red tape, streamlined regulations and made fiscally responsible decisions to right-size government. All of these factors make Maine more competitive in attracting and retaining jobs.”
The labor department estimates 47,300 Mainers were unemployed last month, down 3,800 over the year.
Of those, 11,556 received unemployment compensation, either regular benefits from the state or extended benefits provided under the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which is a 100 percent federally funded program that Congress created in 2008 to provide benefits to individuals who have exhausted regular state benefits.
Maine’s Unemployment Insurance program — funded through the state’s Unemployment Trust Fund — provides 26 weeks of unemployment benefits to people who were laid off through no fault of their own. Beyond that, people can claim benefits for up to 20 additional weeks under the EUC program, for a total of 46 weeks.
Maine’s improving economy and the need to cut costs because of mandated budget cuts known as sequestration have already reduced the number of weeks people can collect EUC benefits. This past summer, the number of weeks a person in Maine could receive unemployment benefits decreased from 63 to 46.
Now, the roughly 4,000 currently receiving benefits under the EUC program face having those benefits disappear at the end of the year.
“People need to make financial plans,” LePage said in a statement. “They might also need to re-evaluate their job search strategy or change their career entirely by enrolling in a training program. No one should feel like they do not have any resources; the Department of Labor has resources to help people find a good job.”
The Maine Job Bank reached a record high of more than 8,100 open jobs on Nov. 14, according to the labor department.
There is a chance, however, that the EUC program will be extended.
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat who plans to run against LePage for governor in 2014, has co-sponsored a bill that would extend the EUC benefits for one year. He has also signed a letter to the heads of the budget committees in the House and Senate that calls for a one-year extension to be included in any budget deal that is currently being negotiated.
“Despite some positive gains, Maine still has pockets of high unemployment where emergency unemployment compensation is a lifeline for families struggling to make ends meet,” Michaud said in a statement. “Congress needs to act. Too many Americans have lost a job through no fault of their own, and this assistance is critical to helping them get back on the job.”
Whether the program is extended or not, the labor department is urging people to take advantage of the available resources. Maine’s network of CareerCenters will increase their job-search services and training to help job seekers find new positions.
For more information, visit a local CareerCenter or call 1-888-457-888 (TTY users dial Maine Relay 711) or visit www.mainecareercenter.com.