New unemployment claims fell slightly in Maine last week, with about 2,500 Mainers filing initial claims or reopening previous claims – 100 fewer than the previous week.

The Maine Department of Labor said Thursday that about 1,400 initial claims were filed for state unemployment insurance, and 300 initial claims were filed for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. That’s about the same number of federal claims as the previous week, but with 500 fewer state claims.

New claims have fallen from a high of more than 4,000 a week earlier this year. The department said it has paid out over $2 billion in jobless benefits since the pandemic began over a year ago.

Mainers filed about 47,000 continuing jobless claims last week for those still unemployed and eligible for benefits, down about 2,000 claims from the previous week.

The U.S. Department of Labor issued guidance last week to state unemployment systems to implement benefits extended under President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law on March 11. The pandemic-related aid package includes $1,400 checks for most adult U.S. residents, along with other direct and indirect financial benefits.

Under the new law, pandemic-related federal unemployment aid programs for those who either don’t qualify for state aid or have exhausted their state benefits will be extended through early September. The Rescue Plan also includes a $300-per-week supplemental federal payment to unemployed Americans. That benefit also began last week and runs through early September.

Nationally, the number of unemployment benefit applications fell sharply last week to 684,000, the fewest since the pandemic erupted a year ago and a sign that the economy is improving, The Associated Press reported.

Thursday’s report from the U.S. Labor Department showed that jobless claims fell from 781,000 the week before, according to the AP. It is the first time that weekly applications for jobless aid have fallen below 700,000 since mid-March of last year, it said. Before the pandemic tore through the economy, applications had never topped that level.

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