More than 2,000 Mainers filed new claims for jobless assistance last week as additional federal benefits expire. The $600 had been helping out-of-work people for months.

About 2,100 people filed initial unemployment claims last week, the lowest weekly number since tens of thousands were thrown out of work because of the pandemic five months ago.

While new claims are low, the number of people continuing to receive weekly benefits remains at a historic high. More than 87,000 weekly certifications for state and federal unemployment benefits were filed last week, slightly more than the previous week.

The thousands of people who filed new benefits this week are entering a system without an extra $600 per week benefit that has been available since April. That money has been credited with keeping people out of poverty during the pandemic and associated economic crisis, but the benefit ends on Friday. In Maine, last week was the final period for payments that included the added $600.

Right now, there is no replacement for the supplemental assistance. The Democrat-led House passed the HEROES Act in May that included an extra $600 through the beginning of next year.

Senate Republicans and the White House this week proposed a relief plan that would cut the payments to $200 a week until states could implement a payment system that would replace 70 percent of a worker’s previous income.

The Maine Department of Labor has said setting up a system that requires individual income records could take months. A replacement for the $600 payment that includes another flat amount could take up to a week to roll out, a department spokeswoman said this week.

Amid delivering benefits to an unprecedented number of jobless Mainers, the department of labor also has confronted widespread unemployment fraud. Tens of thousands of new and weekly claims have been illegally filed, allegedly by criminals using stolen personal identification information.

The number of fraudulent claims has fallen sharply since late May, when the department slowed down claims processing and suspended payments to some legitimate claimants to handle the wave of fraud.

Last week, the department canceled about 670 initial claims and 260 weekly claims for fraud.

 

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