The economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic is unprecedented in our lifetimes. The urgent public health requirement that Mainers stay home as much as possible has necessitated the temporary closure of businesses all across the state and resulted in tens of thousands of furloughs and layoffs.
As a result, even today, almost four months after the first detected case of COVID-19 in Maine, just under 86,000 Mainers are relying on unemployment compensation benefits to keep themselves and their families fed and sheltered.
Early on, Congress recognized that this downturn would be especially severe and harmful for working families. So they authorized an additional $600 weekly unemployment benefit, which has helped keep Maine families and our economy afloat.
Unemployment compensation is one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus, according to an analysis by Moody’s Analytics. By helping those tens of thousands of Mainers put food on the table and make rent each month, the additional unemployment benefits have boosted our economy. Almost every dollar Washington sends for Mainers’ unemployment assistance is spent on goods and services, which supports jobs statewide.
So far, Mainers have received almost $700 million in federal funds for unemployment support, generating almost $1.1 billion in economic activity over the past four months.
But the additional $600 unemployment income is slated to expire at the end of July unless Congress acts to extend it. According to the Economic Policy Institute, if Congress fails to renew the extra $600 per week benefit, Maine will lose another 18,000 jobs over the next year.
On a human scale, unemployment benefits are especially important for those hit hardest by this current recession – low-income workers in service jobs, women, and people of color. Overall, one in seven Maine workers received unemployment benefits in May, including:
- One in six women in the workforce
- One in five Black workers and one in five Latinx workers
- Almost one in three Native American workers.
If Congress fails to act, Maine and its people may be pushed over the edge of a steep economic cliff. Tens of thousands of Mainers will be plunged into poverty, especially our most vulnerable communities. Economic activity will slow further, creating more layoffs, and more shuttered businesses. Maine cannot wait. Congress must act now.
 Maine Department of Labor data for week ending July 11, 2020.
 MECEP analysis of US Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2018 1-year data and Maine Department of Labor, Characteristics of the Insured Unemployed, May 2020.