Claims for unemployment insurance in Maine remained high last week, the state Department of Labor said Thursday as it prepares an extension of federal jobless aid programs and supplemental payments.

About 2,700 new claims for state unemployment insurance were filed in the fourth week of December – a 10 percent drop from the previous week – and 1,800 claims were filed for aid under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

In all, about 3,300 Mainers filed an initial jobless claim or reopened a previous claim last week, the department.

Claims dipped slightly from previous weeks, but the four-week average of new claims was still higher than in October or November. Layoffs typically increase in late fall and early winter as seasonal businesses shed jobs, but the impact of the pandemic is likely increasing the number of people out of work.

About 40,400 claims for continued state and federal unemployment insurance were filed last week. The total number of continued claims remains higher than at any point in the past 17 years, according to labor department data.

The department is working to enact unemployment benefits in the new federal relief bill signed into law this week. The bill extends federal unemployment programs through March, lengthens the maximum benefit period and provides a $300-per-week supplemental unemployment payment.

Benefit accrual and eligibility will continue uninterrupted under the new relief package, but there may be a brief payment delay for some claimants, the labor department said. Earlier this week, the department said payments could be delayed for a week or more for those collecting federal benefits.

Nationally, the number of new unemployment claims fell by 19,000 last week but remained historically high at 787,000 as a resurgent coronavirus grips the U.S. economy, The Associated Press reported.

While at the lowest level in four weeks, the new figures released Thursday by the U.S. Labor Department are nearly four times higher than last year at this point before the coronavirus struck, according to the AP. Employers continue to cut jobs as rising coronavirus infections keep many people at home and state and local governments reimpose restrictions.

Jobless claims were running around 225,000 a week before the pandemic struck with force last March, causing weekly jobless claims to surge to a high of 6.9 million in late March as efforts to contain the virus sent the economy into a deep recession, AP reported.

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