The state of Maine is about to flush over $5 million dollars in Federal Cares Act aid down the drain for no good reason, in fact, for no reason at all.

From the beginning of the Federal Cares Act, the Maine Department of Labor (MDOL) fumbled the ball on the tidal wave of unemployment claims the COVID-19 crisis created. Perhaps they can be excused for that, perhaps not. To give credit where credit is due, after scrutiny by the Maine Legislature, improvements were made.

What can certainly not be excused is the MDOL and/or Gov. Mill’s current failure to take the simple administrative step of changing Maine’s official unemployment end-of-week from Saturdays to Fridays. This trivial change would add an extra $600 in Federal Cares Act subsidy to the 92,000 or so currently collecting Cares Act benefits.

To be fair, Maine is not alone, but that does not excuse the Maine Department of Labor and Maine’s elected officials from not looking out for the citizens of Maine. Let the elected and appointed officials of other states look out for their constituents. Our expectation should be that Maine’s elected and appointed officials look out for Mainers. Let me be clear, our elected officials and their appointees are again asleep at the switch.

The issue at hand starts with the flawed language of the Cares Act. The Cares Act stipulates that the Federally subsidized benefit(s) end, “on or before July 31st”.  The problem is that this year July 31st is a Friday, and in Maine, for unemployment purposes, weeks end on a Saturday meaning Mainers will not receive Cares Act benefits for the last week of July.

The flawed date math in the Cares Act language is not the fault of Maine’s state elected officials or the MDOL, although our federal House and Senate representatives certainly had a hand in it.

When Maine’s end of the workweek was defined COVID-19 and/or the Cares Act language could not have been anticipated. In fact, it seems that most, if not all states, end their unemployment weeks on a Saturday or Sunday. Were it not for the flawed language of the Cares Act, this arbitrary distinction would not matter at all. We are historically, for payroll purposes, accustomed to a Monday through Sunday or Sunday Saturday workweek, but that distinction is meaningless today.

Why is the unemployment workweek Sunday through Saturday in some States and Monday through Sunday in others?  The answer is because workweek is an arbitrary distinction. Who among the (lucky to be) employed now defines their workweek as Sunday through Saturday as is in Maine or Monday through Sunday as in New York? For the unemployed, the distinction is even more absurd.

On a practical level it could be argued we need a definition of a workweek. It could also be argued we do not. Nevertheless, for the time being, we are stuck with the concept. That does not mean we need to be slaves to how we define it in statute or by regulation.

The point is, with the stroke of a pen, be it administratively by Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman or by executive order of Gov. Mills, the arbitrary unemployment week ending day could be changed begin on Saturday and end on Friday until further notice effective as of July 25.  If this seem tricky and last-ditch, it is. However, if the problem had not been overlooked by the MDOL for months, tricky and last-ditch efforts would not be necessary.

Again, with 92,000 or so continuing unemployment claims in Maine multiplied by $600, this simple act would add over $5 million dollars to Maine’s state economy. Make no mistake, Maine’s unemployed spend their benefits in Maine. Failure to make this change is tantamount to governmental malpractice.

I urge all Mainers, employed or unemployed, to flood their elected officials email boxes with their outrage at this dereliction of duty.


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