More than 20,000 Mainers have applied for jobless benefits under a federal eligibility expansion that allows such payments to unemployed contractors, self-employed workers and others normally ineligible.

Among the more than 20,000 Mainers who have been enrolled in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, since the federal program was implemented May 1 in Maine, roughly 15,400 already have received a benefit payment, the state Department of Labor said in a news release Monday.

The program provides benefits to those not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits, such as workers who are self-employed or do not have sufficient earnings, the department said.

“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,” state Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said in the release. “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.”

Fortman has said the expansion could add eligibility for up to 70,000 workers in Maine who are normally ineligible for unemployment benefits.

Total unemployment claims figures for last week won’t be available until Thursday, but new jobless claims surged the previous week in Maine as thousands of workers rushed to take advantage of the newly available benefits.

About 16,100 Mainers filed initial unemployment claims during the week ending May 2, bringing the total number of people out of work in the state since March 15 to 124,600. That figure represents roughly 18 percent of Maine’s civilian labor force.

Roughly 10,500 of those new claims were attributed to the implementation of PUA, according to the Labor Department. It said the 10,500 claims were filed in just the first two days of expanded eligibility, and that thousands more PUA claims have been filed since then.

Benefit payments are retroactive, according to the department. An additional weekly payment of $600 created by the new Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program is retroactive to the week ending April 4 and is available through July 25, it said.

In the coming weeks, the department said it will be sending emails to those who are self-employed with instructions on how to upload their tax documentation.

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