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Unemployment claims set record high as virus shutters state

By Stephen Betts | Apr 02, 2020

The number of people filing initial claims for unemployment benefits in Maine reached another record high this past week as more businesses closed in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Initial claims for unemployment compensation were approximately 23,800 in the week ending March 28, the Maine Department of Labor reported April 2. This is the highest weekly total on record.

Initial claims totaled about 21,500 the previous week, which was the previous record. A week before the mandatory closures were ordered, the initial claims for the week were only 630.

Total claims for the week, both initial and continued claims, increased to 45,700 from 30,200 the prior week, according to the Labor department.

The claims during the past two weeks 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.

The state does not break down the filing claims by county.

But in the most recently monthly unemployment information from the state, the Knox County jobless rate was 4.9% in February. There is generally a month lag time between the end of the month and when unemployment rates are released.

COVID-19 caused significant economic hardship for Mainers and job losses across the state, particularly in the food services and lodging, health care and social assistance, retail trade and manufacturing industries, the state reported.

“The data today shows another week of high levels of initial claims filed and a dramatic increase in weekly unemployment claims due to COVID-19 related business closures and layoffs,” Commissioner Laura Fortman said in a news release.

“Although there is an unprecedented surge of applications, staff are working tirelessly to process claims as quickly as possible and last week over six million dollars in benefits were received by laid off Maine workers.”

In light of the unprecedented high claim volume, the Department of Labor recommends that people file their claims online with a computer as opposed to a smart phone and do so in the evening when internet traffic is less.

Those who are unable to connect with a claims representative by calling 1-800-593-7660 before 12:15 p.m. Monday through Friday should submit a message at

The Department of Labor is implementing solutions to the challenges created by the sudden and unprecedented levels of questions and claims to meet the needs of Maine people.

Claims staff are working over the weekend to process applications and contacting claimants who have errors on their applications, CareerCenter staff can reset passwords and handle questions via Live Chat, and the department has hired new staff and brought back retirees. By pulling staff from other areas of the department, we have tripled the number of people answering calls. The online unemployment system, which Maine implemented a few years ago, is performing as designed and is available 24/7.

To apply for unemployment, visit or call 1-800-593-7660 between 8 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., Monday through Friday.

For password resets and basic questions through a CareerCenter, visit

For more information and resources, visit the Department’s COVID-19 page at

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Dennis Bonville | Apr 07, 2020 21:50

They still not letting contractors apply for benefits? 3 weeks my daughters been home due to school being closed and that's 3 weeks without money or groceries. This is getting to be a bit ridiculous as they knew about this 3 weeks ago. They wont explain why we cant apply and they wont tell us why. I'm glad they can go home to their children and cook dinner while alot of us cant. It's not right. How long does the state think well remain complacent.  Not too much longer I've had enough!!!!

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