Starting Monday, the state unemployment office will extend its call-in hours for filing claims by nearly three hours, the Maine Department of Labor announced Tuesday.

Calls are currently being accepted between 8 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Monday through Friday, but starting Monday those hours will be extended to between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., it said.

Those who are unable to connect with a claims representative by calling 800-593-7660 before 3 p.m. Monday through Friday should submit a message at maine.gov/labor/contact, the department said.

The office has been inundated with calls from laid-off workers since the coronavirus pandemic hit Maine a month ago. Since March 15, there have been more than 76,000 initial unemployment claims filed in the state, more than double the total initial claims for all of 2019.

The state plans to increase the amount of all weekly benefits payments by $600 starting next week as part of the federal CARES Act, but it has yet to say when it will implement another provision that adds previously ineligible contractors and self-employed workers to the list of eligible claimants.

The Labor Department recommends people file their claims online with a computer, not a smartphone, and do so in the evening when internet traffic is less congested. It has implemented an alphabetical call-in schedule to help reduce phone line congestion as it ramps up capacity to receive and process claims.

Last names beginning with A through H should call on Mondays, I through Q on Tuesdays, and R through Z on Wednesdays, it said. Thursdays and Fridays are left unassigned for those who miss their alphabetical day or need to call at that time.

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