At least 77,000 claims for continued unemployment benefits were filed last week in Maine as the number of initial claims kept trending downward.

About 50,200 claims for continued state unemployment benefits were filed last week, along with 26,800 claims for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance by those typically ineligible for state aid, according to the Maine Department of Labor. That compares with roughly 53,100 continued state claims and 26,400 federal assistance claims filed the previous week.

Roughly 1,500 Mainers filed new unemployment claims last week, a dip of about 200 people from the week before. In all, about 1,500 initial claims were filed for state benefits and 280 for federal benefits. The number of claims recently has exceeded the number of actual people who filed them because of overlap between the state and federal programs.

Those continuing to receive unemployment benefits had to start looking for work this week unless they are self-employed or still connected to their employer and expecting to be rehired. Another recent change is that as of late July, jobless Mainers are no longer eligible to receive an extra $600 a week in federal benefits as part of a now-expired pandemic assistance program.

Democrats and the White House had been in discussions to extend the benefit, at least partially, as part of a broader coronavirus relief package. However, those talks have stalled and are not expected to resume until September.

States including Maine are still determining how to establish a new enhanced unemployment program authorized by President Trump last weekend.

The Lost Wage Assistance program would provide $300 per week for unemployed workers from a federal disaster relief fund, with another $100 match from states. It is unclear how Maine’s labor department would set up enhanced unemployment benefits outlined in Trump’s executive action, and Gov. Janet Mills has said the short-term measure does not go far enough to provide real relief for tens of thousands of jobless Mainers.

The U.S. Department of Labor released guidance for the program Wednesday. It would require states to apply for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. States would be allowed to pay for their matching funds from coronavirus relief funds provided by Congress, other state funds or the funding normally used to pay for state unemployment insurance.

Unemployed workers would need to self-certify that they were unemployed or underemployed because of the pandemic and be eligible to receive at least $100 per week from their state unemployment insurance programs to be eligible, according to the labor department.

A Maine labor department spokeswoman did not reply when asked whether Maine would participate in the program, how it would be established and how much it would cost. It could cost the state $8 million a week to cover added benefits for the number of claims filed last week. The U.S. labor department also did not respond to a request for more details about the program.

Nationally, the number of initial state claims for unemployment aid fell below 1 million last week for the first time since the pandemic intensified five months ago, yet still remained at a high level.

More than 488,000 initial claims were filed for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, according to the U.S. labor department. Claims for continued state benefits dropped to 15.5 million, from 16.1 million the previous week. That number does not include the millions of claims filed under the federal program for self-employed, contract and other workers who do not qualify for state benefits.

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