More and more we are hearing about Maine companies having to lay off workers, cut down on hours, or institute voluntary retirement incentives and wage freezes. RR Donnelley in Wells, National Semiconductor in South Portland, Domtar in Baileyville and even L.L. Bean have been forced to cut jobs, consider cutting jobs or outright close because of the failing economy. These layoffs alone have put more than 700 Maine people out of work.

In January, Maine’s unemployment rate rose to 7.8 percent, the second highest unemployment rate in New England, according to the United States Department of Labor. The highest is Rhode Island’s 10.3 percent.

The unemployment rate is just a number; what we don’t see is how hard life becomes for Maine people when they have to deal with job loss. I speak to Mainers nearly every day who share this problem. These are good people whom the economy has hit hard and who are struggling to make ends meet. It is critical that these families get help to access programs and services they need, like unemployment compensation.

Unemployment compensation is an insurance program that helps laid-off workers with their economic situation, providing temporary relief for them and their families. Unemployment insurance is jointly funded through federal and state employer payroll taxes. Benefits normally run for 26 weeks, though with the state of our economy, many workers have been qualifying for an additional 20 weeks of emergency unemployment benefits. In February, an additional 13 weeks of Emergency Extended Unemployment Compensation was made available as a part of the Recovery Act.

There are three ways you can apply for unemployment. The first is to file online. Filing online allows you to file a new unemployment claim, reopen an existing account or file your weekly claim. The Web site is www.fileforui.com. You will need to have your Social Security number or alien registration number; the business name, address and telephone number of every place you worked during the past 18 months; and the jobs you held, as well as the dates you worked for each employer, if you plan to file online.

If you don’t have a computer at home, you can use a computer at a CareerCenter or at a local library. The CareerCenter is where to start if you’re looking for a job. It has lots of useful information on training and on education.

In this area, the closest CareerCenters are in Portland and South Paris. The Portland center can be contacted at 771-5627 or toll-free at 1-877-594-5627. The South Paris CareerCenter can be reached by calling 743-7763 or toll-free at 1-800-343-0151. For information about other CareerCenters, visit www.mainecareercenter.com.

If you cannot file online, you can call the Unemployment Claims Center and file by phone. The Unemployment Claims Center can be reached toll-free at 1-800-593-7660. For the hearing- impaired, the TTY number is 1-888-457-8884.

Please remember that if you choose to file by phone, it may take several attempts to connect with anyone at the Unemployment Claims Center. With the numerous layoffs Maine has experienced, the Claims Center has been inundated with calls. Please be patient during this process, especially with the staff at the call center. They are working diligently to process every claim, including coming in on weekends and working long shifts just to catch up. The Maine Department of Labor has said that wait times are typically shorter on Wednesdays and Thursdays, as well as in the afternoons.

The third option is to file by mail. Be sure you complete the three forms: the initial application form (form B9.2), the income tax withholding form (W4-V) and the dependents form (B-70). These forms are available at the CareerCenters and the instructions for them are included with the forms.

If you are having any trouble filing for unemployment or you haven’t heard back from Department of Labor about your claim, please don’t hesitate to call me. I will do what I can to get the information you need. Just remember that this process takes time and please bear with the Unemployment Claims Center during this busy time.

Contact my office at the State House, 287-1515, with any questions or comments, or visit my Web site, www.mainesenate.org/diamond.

Sen. Bill Diamond is a resident of Windham. His Senate district includes the communities of Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish, Windham and Hollis.


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