The number of people filing claims for unemployment benefits skyrocketed by an unprecedented amount during the past week in Maine.

The Maine Department of Labor reported that 21,459 initial unemployment claims were filed for the week ending March 21. That compares to 634 initial claims the previous week.

The 21,459 claims far exceeds the number of first-time claims during the depth of the Great Recession. In one week during January 2009, initial claims peaked at 5,634 for a single week.

And state Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, an independent from Friendship, has sent a letter to Maine Gov. Janet Mills asking her to extend the deadline for people to file their state income tax returns.

The Labor Department reported that the most affected industries were accommodations and food services where 7,965 of the claims originated. Another 3,588 came from people who worked in the health care and social assistance sector, manufacturing 1,131, and retail trade 1,103.

“We, along with the rest of the country, are doing everything we can to respond to this historic number of unemployment claims and the questions that come with them,”Maine Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said in a news release issued March 26. “We know that the partial wage replacement that unemployment benefits provide is a lifeline for families, as well as an economic stabilizer for our local communities in these uncertain times.”

The unemployment rate for the counties and state for March will not be available until May. The most recent unemployment rate was for January and that stood at 4.1% for the state and 4.4% for Knox County.

The job losses have resulted from the COVID-19 outbreak and government orders to shutdown non-essential businesses to prevent the spread of the virus.

The state's unemployment insurance program provides partial wage replacement for workers who experience job layoff, loss or reduction in hours through no fault of their own. Those who are unsure if they are eligible for unemployment benefits are encouraged to apply. The department will review information provided by both the applicant and the employer to make a case-by-case determination about eligibility.

The department said the best way to apply is online because the system is available 24/7 at

If anyone needs to apply by phone, call 1-800-593-7660 between 8 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. Because many Mainers have been impacted, the phone queue fills quickly. The Department encourages people to keep trying. For simple questions or for password resets, call the nearest CareerCenter.

For more information and resources, visit the Department’s COVID-19 page at, follow the Maine Department of Labor on Facebook @MElabor and/or Twitter @maine_labor.

And because of this economic shock, Rep. Evangelos sent a letter to the governor. The following is the text of the letter.

"I hope this letter finds you well in these extremely challenging times. I am writing you today to ask that you reconsider your decision to maintain the April 15th deadline for the submission of our income taxes. President Trump has already moved the federal deadline to July 15th and I'm asking you to match this date in an effort to help alleviate the financial strains facing Maine's people. The fact is, by April 15th, many Mainers will be out of money, unable to pay their bills, and they will be depending on the kindness of friends, families,  strangers, bailouts, and the emergency measures you have taken, to get by.

People are unable to go to work or have already lost their jobs, as small businesses close and also struggle to stay afloat. People who are forced to go to work, such as the men and women of Bath Iron Works, further exposes the moral turpitude of General Dynamics, which is putting their profits ahead of the safety of not only the workers themselves, who labor in crowded conditions, but also their families and the community at large.This is no time to add to that burden by forcing the April 15th deadline for income tax collection.

I know Maine is entering tough times. Not since 1929 has the country experienced what we are about to face, another depression with massive unemployment. We in government cannot add to that stress. During your news conference earlier this week you maintained that Maine needs the revenue by April 15th in order to function. I am sympathetic to the stresses you are facing, but adding a financial strain to our people is not the answer. People need all the help they can get right now, it's  an emergency. If the state runs short of money on April 15th, we can go out and borrow it like the rest of us have to. The State can borrow at near 0% percent, so it's not like it's going to cost us anything in the long run. In addition, the way the state income tax forms are comported, people use data from their federal return to enter onto the state form. With the federal deadline pushed out to July 15th, tax filing in Maine is going to be inaccurate and a disaster for the Maine Revenue Service.

I am pleading with you to revise your directive in reference to the April 15th state income tax filing deadline. Please match it up with the July 15th federal directive. We are all in this together and I am in  hopes that by July 15th, we will see better days.

I wish you the best in these difficult times."