Maine to overhaul unemployment system

Maine’s pandemic-ravaged unemployment system will be getting an overhaul under a new law signed by Gov. Janet Mills.

The new law seeks to modernize the system by improving the process for filing initial claims, boosting the amount of money that jobless workers can receive and expanding the number of people who qualify for unemployment benefits.

It increases supplemental unemployment benefits for jobless workers with dependent children for the first time in 30 years. Those benefits will now be $25 per child, up to 75% of the workers maximum unemployment insurance payments.

The changes will also allow more part-time workers to claim benefits when they can’t find full-time work and increase the amount of money they are eligible to receive.

State Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Sagadahoc, the measure’s primary sponsor, said the changes are aimed at fixing problems that were exposed by the pandemic when many workers were faced with navigating the state’s complicated unemployment system.

“They were confronted with a system that was both unprepared to meet the sudden surge in demand, and out of sync with the needs of many Mainers,” she said.

Cynthia Phinney, president of the Maine AFL-CIO, called the new law “the most significant and meaningful pro-worker reforms to Maine’s unemployment insurance system in decades.”

“It will modernize Maine’s unemployment insurance program to ensure that Maine workers will receive timely and adequate unemployment benefits and that our system runs smoothly to help people get back into good paying jobs and high quality apprenticeship and training programs,” she said in a statement.

Workers who have to leave their jobs because of a family emergency, such as the loss of child care, won’t automatically be disqualified for unemployment benefits.

The new law will also create a new commission to tackle long-term problems with the state’s unemployment system.

Vitelli’s bill was one of several filed in the current session aimed at fixing shortcomings with the states unemployment system including one filed by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, which wasn’t approved by the Legislature before it recessed.

A survey of jobless workers, conducted last year by the Maine chapter of the AFL-CIO and Maine Equal Justice, found that nearly 40% of jobless claimants faced delays of more than 30 days to receive benefits and that the payments didn’t meet the needs of many families with children.

Like most states, Maine saw a crush on jobless claims during the pandemic as the government shut down businesses to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The state has distributed about $2.3 billion in state and federal jobless benefits to nearly 370,000 jobless workers during the pandemic, according to the labor department.

This article was originally posted on Maine to overhaul unemployment system

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