Last week’s expanded eligibility spurs largest UI claims spike since pandemic began

Roughly 16,100 Mainers filed new unemployment claims in the week ending May 2, according to the Maine Department of Labor, representing the largest week-over-week increase in since the first surge of filings six weeks prior.

125,600 Mainers have filed for unemployment since the pandemic began. That figure represents 18.1 percent of the state’s workforce.

Last week’s claims include roughly 10,500 claims filed under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a new program to expand eligibility to self-employed workers, small-business owners, and others made eligible under the US CARES Act. MDOL began implementing the new program last week.

It’s clear that pent-up demand for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance was massive. The CARES Act was enacted seven weeks ago, and self-employed and gig workers have been waiting to be able to file claims and receive benefits.

Last week’s UI claims numbers are 17 times higher than Maine’s pre-pandemic average. The downturn is unlike any we have ever seen, and no sector of the workforce is unaffected. Unemployment benefits are a lifeline to workers who lose their livelihoods through no fault of their own. It’s good that more Mainers are now able to avail themselves of this critical, economy-boosting benefit.