The number of Mainers filing new unemployment claims increased by more than 60 percent last week following nearly two months of steady decline.

Roughly 4,400 jobless residents filed initial claims last week, up from about 2,800 the previous week, according to a report issued Thursday by the Maine Department of Labor. The total number of initial claims filed last week was roughly 8,000 – including claims for both state and federal benefits – a sharp increase from 5,100 claims the previous week.

For the past few months, the number of claims has been significantly higher than the number of people filing them because of duplication between state and federal benefit programs.

The labor department said a seasonal uptick in unemployment claims filed in early July because of temporary mill and factory shutdowns could help explain last week’s increase in initial claims, but the department is analyzing the increase as it continues to investigate fraudulent claims filed by organized criminal syndicates using Mainers’ stolen personal information.

About 60,000 weekly certifications, or continued claims, were filed last week for state unemployment. In addition, about 23,900 weekly certifications were filed under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Weekly certifications must be filed by claimants every week in order to continue receiving unemployment benefits.

Total continued benefits paid decreased slightly from 87,000 the previous week to 83,900 last week.

The department also announced Thursday that it is pushing back to Aug. 9 the date when unemployed Mainers who are permanently separated from their employer must start searching for work. It’s the second time the department has postponed the job search requirement’s implementation from its original date of July 11.

Prior to the requirement being reinstated, the department said, it will post screenshots of what the additional weekly certification page will look like on its website and identify the questions claimants will be required to answer.

All unemployment claimants who are required to actively search for work must create an account on the Maine JobLink website. JobLink is a free job search tool that allows claimants to upload their resumes and employers to post their job openings.

Thousands of Mainers continue to face unreasonable waits for unemployment benefits following official state orders that closed nonessential businesses to help reduce the spread of the highly contagious virus that causes COVID-19. Many people have lost their patience and have grown frustrated and angry with the labor department.

The state trust fund that pays unemployment benefits is being depleted rapidly. It has been reduced from $479 million in March to $325 million in May, the most recent month available. Gov. Janet Mills’ administration has indicated that it will use $270 million of federal emergency aid to replenish the trust fund.

Nationally, the number of initial unemployment claims filed last week remained roughly unchanged from the previous week at 1.3 million, a historically high level that indicates many companies are still cutting jobs as the coronavirus pandemic intensifies in many U.S. states.


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