The Maine Department of Labor is working to expedite unemployment claims and to get federal money to those not eligible for state benefits.

Laura Fortman, Commissioner for the Maine Department of Labor, says the surge in unemployment claims, since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in Maine, is historic. Over 100,000 residents who were working at the beginning of March have since applied for benefits as their employers have been forced to close their doors. But Fortman says her staff is working as quickly as possible to get those benefits out, and she reassured workers that those benefits will be retroactive.

One way the Department of Labor is working to expedite the process is by skipping the interview step for many applicants since, Fortman said, the interviews would stretch on for months. People should start receiving decisions about whether they're approved or denied in the next few days.

Some people will be denied, she says, because they are not eligible for state benefits, such those who are self-employed or who didn't earn enough in the past four quarters. Those residents may be eligible for help through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, which is still in the development stage.

The Maine Dept. of Labor has received the initial rules for the federal program and expect a second release early next week. They have developed a web-based system to start processing those claims, and expect to have a timeline available next week.

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