Unemployment Resource Guide

My staff and I have assembled this guide to help the thousands of Mainers who have lost their jobs or can’t find work due to the coronavirus. Our goal is to help you understand the options available to you and decide on a course of action. We took the questions we were hearing most consistently from our constituents, answered them if there are answers available, and put them all in one place. 

We know this will be a difficult, frustrating process for many workers and we want to be a resource. Members of my staff are also prepared to assist you with questions, helpful resources, and other urgent needs. If we can’t help or answer your question, we’ll quickly connect you with someone who can.

You can find contact information for my nearest office here. During business hours, you will nearly always be able to connect directly with a member of our staff who will do their best to help you. 

Congressman Golden's signature.

Resources:

 

UPDATE: Department Expediting Decisions on Thousands of Unemployment Claims:  In response to the critical situation caused by COVID-19, the Maine Department of Labor is streamlining its standards for 18,000-20,000 pending unemployment claims that would typically require a fact-finding interview. This will relieve a backlog and bring certainty about benefits to Maine people as fast as possible… “Unprecedented times demand unprecedented action,” Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said. “By issuing clear decisions on their unemployment claim, MDOL has opened the door to thousands of Maine people to take the next steps in the unemployment insurance process as quickly as possible. We will continue to do all we can to ensure that every eligible Mainer receives the benefits they need to provide for their families during this crisis.”

…MDOL’s streamlining will result in one of three outcomes for all current and future unemployment insurance claims through May 30:
 

  1.    About 5,000 claims that were likely to be approved after an interview are now authorized to move forward without an interview to ensure benefits can be delivered quickly.
  2.   About 7,000 claims waiting for an interview that were likely to be denied due to the claim not meeting monetary eligibility requirements will be denied, a necessary step to ensure these claimants can take further action without delay.
  3.   The remainder of claims will still have fact-finding interviews or other staff review but on an expedited schedule to ensure they are resolved as quickly as possible.

 

FAQs: FOR EMPLOYEES

 

What kinds of unemployment claims do I qualify for?

Congress enacted, and Maine opted in to new temporary federal unemployment programs created by the CARES Act. The U.S. Department of Labor released program guidance and the Maine Department of Labor (Maine DOL) is working to implement them as quickly as possible. Once the new programs are in place, claims filed will be processed retroactively to the dates in the law.

Now in operation:

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC): Provides an additional $600 in weekly benefits for those already receiving unemployment benefits. $54 million were sent out as of Thursday, April 16th.

Coming soon: Two other programs are in the process of being set up for implementation. Please wait to file so you don’t receive a denial. For more information, check here: https://www.maine.gov/labor/covid19/.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): Provides unemployment for those who are not eligible for regular unemployment including the self-employed or those who’ve had to stay home to take care of children when schools or daycare are closed due to COVID-19.

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC): Offers up to 13 more weeks of unemployment to those who’ve already exhausted theirs. If you have already enrolled in the current unemployment program, you should continue filing your weekly certifications (each week, please avoid the very busy Sunday and Monday).

All of these unemployment benefits will be administered through the Maine Department of Labor  (Maine DOL). Please check their website regularly for the latest updates on these benefits as the federal Department of Labor has yet to provide administrative guidance to the states. Those who have exhausted all available benefits already or are self-employed should wait to file a claim for benefits. Since these programs have not been implemented yet, filing at this point will only result in a denial.

 

What will be the duration of these new UI benefits?

The same as regular unemployment benefits at any other time, a maximum of 26 weeks. If individuals are in a year of already receiving some unemployment, they may have already used up some of those 26 weeks. However, extended benefits will become available as highlighted above through the federal CARES Act. Again, those who have exhausted all available benefits already or are self-employed should wait to file a claim for benefits until this federal guidance is released. Since these programs have not been implemented yet, filing at this point will only result in a denial.

 

What is the maximum UI benefit and what is the average UI benefit?

In Maine, the maximum weekly benefit amount is $445.00. The average weekly benefit amount is roughly $340.00. Under the federal CARES Act, individuals will see an additional $600 added to their weekly benefit. 

 

What is the best way for me to file my unemployment claim?

You can file an unemployment claim online 24/7 at the Maine DOL website or you can call 1-800-593-7660. Maine DOL is responding to a huge increase in unemployment claims for Mainers. They hope to have 100 more people answering phones by the end of next week, but until then they are making some changes to ease congestion. 

Starting Monday, April 6, Maine people seeking to file for unemployment should call the 800 number in alphabetical order by last name. Specifically, those with last names beginning with A-H should call on Monday; I-Q on Tuesday; and R-Z on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday will be left unassigned for those who miss their alphabetical day or need to call at that time.

 

What do I do if I call and there are long wait times?

Maine DOL is receiving a high volume of calls about and claims for unemployment benefits. Claims are accepted online 24 hours a day, seven days a week; it is best to file from a computer and in the evening when internet traffic is reduced. If your question isn’t answered there, you can submit a new question through the online Customer Message Portal (CMP). Questions are being answered as quickly as possible and MDOL is training and bringing on more staff to answer calls and messages. There is still a significant wait period. 

 

What if I don’t have a computer or access to the internet?

If you do not have access to a computer or the internet, you can call 1-800-593-7660. Please be sure to follow the new protocols above about the appropriate time to contact Maine DOL. 

 

I’m using my phone to try to apply for unemployment. Why can’t I see the whole page?

It’s best to use a desktop, laptop or tablet to file for unemployment rather than a cell phone.

 

Can I reset my password without having to call the Maine DOL claims phone and wait a long time?

You should be able to do so. Currently the system allows two attempts to enter your password correctly. If you fail to provide the correct password a third consecutive time, your account will be locked and can only be unlocked by an unemployment representative. If you are unsure of your password or have entered your password incorrectly twice, use the “ForgotPassword” or “Forgot Username” links provided. As long as you have activated the email address that was associated with the account when the account was created, you can click on the "Forgot Password" link underneath the login boxes to have a new temporary password generated and sent to the email address on file in your account. 

Refer to the link below for instructions on how to activate your email if you have not done so already. You will be able to use this temporary password to log in and will be prompted to set up a new password, personal to you, at that time. For more information, please visit the ReEmployME Login Information page at https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/remelogin/.

 

Why must I register with the Maine JobLink when I apply for unemployment?

Registering on the Maine JobLink—a public job database which gives job seekers access to thousands of jobs at any time—is normally required for those receiving unemployment benefits as part of work search. However, work search has been waived at least until mid-May due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Registering is still highly recommended since when the work search is reinstated, anyone still receiving UI benefits will need a JobLink account. When individuals register and submit a new unemployment claim, the UI system creates a partial Maine JobLink account for them, assigning a generic username and a temporary password with a social security number. Once they log into Maine JobLink with the login information provided, Maine JobLink will respond that the assigned password has expired and require they create a new password.

 

Why does MDOL contact my employer when I apply for unemployment?

The process of determining a person’s unemployment eligibility is a two-part process. Maine DOL’s Bureau of Unemployment Compensation (BUC) receives an individual’s initial unemployment claim with the information required on the application. BUC Claims Representatives also gather information from the employer, analyze all the available wage and separation information and then make a determination which is communicated to the individual who has applied through their ReEmployME account.

 

What does “able and available” mean?

Individuals who think they may be eligible for unemployment benefits should apply (online, available 24/7). Under the law, individuals applying must be able to work and available to work in order to be eligible for unemployment. Under the new state temporary unemployment measures, individuals must stay in contact with their employer and make sure the employer has current contact information.

 

Do I have to wait to get unemployment benefits?

For claims filed under the new, temporary emergency unemployment legislation, the “waiting week” has been waived as of the date of the Governor’s Emergency Declaration on March 15, 2020. Initially, it may take up to 10 to 14 days to receive a payment as they need to program the unemployment claim system to carry out the emergency law changes. You will not lose any benefits as a result, but you may receive multiple payments in the first week after the programming changes have been completed. After this, individuals filing for benefits can expect to receive payments weekly as long as weekly claims are filed timely and people remain eligible to collect benefits.

 

If someone is out of work due to childcare and school closures, what is the unemployment process?

The individual should file for unemployment (online is the best way, available 24/7). Maine DOL will review the application and make a determination on a case by case basis about eligibility. The individual must be able and available to work and stay in contact with the employer. Recently passed federal legislation will expand the scope of coverage to many people in this situation. These new programs are not available yet in Maine but there will be information on the Maine DOL website as soon as they are.

 

I have filed an unemployment claim through the online system, but I can’t tell whether my claim has been accepted and I didn’t get a receipt showing I applied?

Due to an unprecedented volume of claims, at the moment it might take two days for the claim to show up on your account. For your records, please print or take a screenshot of the final confirmation page where the screen says the claim has been successfully submitted so that you have proof that Maine DOL received it. (Usually, in times of lower volume claims, the new claim would show in the individual’s portal account within 24 hours. With high volumes, it is taking longer for every item to post to accounts.)
 

What if my claim was denied? What do I do now?

If you were denied, you will receive a written determination from Maine DOL in the mail. There are a number of reasons a claim could be denied; this will be explained in the determination letter you receive. You will need to follow the instructions in that written determination letter. If you have additional questions, you can submit a question on the Customer Messaging Portal at this link: https://www.maine.gov/labor/contact/index.html.

 

Is there an appeal process if my claim was denied?

If you are not going to be paid unemployment benefits for any reason, Maine DOL will inform you in writing. If you are "denied" benefits, "disqualified," or found to be "ineligible" to receive benefits, or if it has been determined that an overpayment has been made, you have the right to file an appeal to review that decision. 

Employer Right of Appeal: If your former employer does not agree with a decision in which the employer is involved, such as a separation from work or refusal of an offer of work, then that employer may also file an appeal on the decision.

Appeal of Monetary Determination: If you believe your monetary determination is incorrect, call the Claim Center. You will be advised to file an appeal. While the appeal is pending, Maine DOL will investigate its accuracy and completeness. If Maine DOL finds any errors, Maine DOL will correct the amount of the wages. If Maine DOL does not find any errors, you will be scheduled for an appeal hearing.

 

You must file an appeal within 15 calendar days of the mailing date of the Deputy’s Decision or Monetary Determination. An additional 15 days for filing an appeal may be granted if you have good cause for late filing. More information on how to file an appeal can be found here: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/docs/2018/UIGuide2018.pdf.

 

What is the best way to receive unemployment payments, direct deposit or debit card?

Maine DOL recommends that all individuals opt for “direct deposit” as a payment method. It is the fastest method to receive payments. For instructions on choosing direct deposit, see the yellow box on the Maine DOL Unemployment webpage: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/. For a step-by-step walk through of the process, please go to: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/reemploymeguide/.  

If instead an individual chooses to use a debit card, please be advised that U.S. Bank handles the Visa debit cards for unemployment benefits, not the Maine DOL unemployment program. Cards are mailed out by the U.S. postal service. US Bank contact information: 800-872-2657

 

How do these new UI measures address an employee who is out sick with the virus?

The new UI measures are not intended to provide sick leave or short-term disability payments. To receive unemployment, the employee must be able and available to work and maintain contact with the employer.

 

What if I am asked by a medical professional or public health official to quarantine as a result of COVID19, but I am not sick?

If you are following guidance issued by a medical professional or public health official to isolate or quarantine yourself as a result of exposure to COVID-19 and you are not receiving paid sick leave from your employer, you may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits. You must be able and available to accept any work offered by your employer that would not cause you to break isolation or quarantine, and you would need to make sure that your employer has your current contact information.

 

My boss just announced that my business must temporarily close and that everyone will be laid off until it reopens. Can I collect unemployment benefits and do I have to look for work until we reopen?

If the business is being temporarily closed as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 virus and you are expected to return to work once the business reopens, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. The work search requirement has been waived. You would not have to look for work as long as you remain able and available to work for your employer and make sure your employer has your current contact information.

 

My boss is allowing me to take an unpaid temporary leave of absence because I am considered high-risk for COVID-19 infection if I stay at the office, though I am not sick now. Would I be able to collect unemployment benefits until I am able to go back to work?

You may be eligible for unemployment benefits during a temporary, unpaid leave of absence if you are expected to return to your job at the end of the leave, so you should apply. You must remain able and available to work for your employer and make sure that your employer has your current contact information. In addition, you do not have to get documentation from a health professional.

 

What if my employer goes out of business permanently as a result of COVID-19?

You may be eligible for and should apply for unemployment benefits (available through online system 24/7).

 

Can someone be covered by unemployment for reduced or part-time work?

Yes, Maine has unemployment coverage for part-time work. The individual should file for benefits and Maine DOL will review and determine if the individual is eligible for partial benefit based on the number of hours worked.

 

If I have to quit, will I be able to get UI benefits?

It depends. Maine DOL will need to make a determination based on the facts of each situation once a claim for benefits is filed. Maine DOL cannot provide a definite decision prior to the separation from a job.

 

What if my employer says there is no work for me and I am not getting paid, but tells me I am not “laid off?” Can I get unemployment?

If you are not working and not being paid, Maine DOL encourages you to apply for unemployment.

 

The new legislation passed by the State Legislature includes those who “need to care for a dependent family member as a result of COVID-19.” What does that mean for me?

It depends. An individual should apply online for unemployment and Maine DOL will review and make a determination on a case by case basis. Under the new legislation, during such a temporary leave of absence, an individual may be eligible for unemployment if that individual continues to remain able and available to work for and maintains contact with the relevant employer. (The new federal legislation does extend eligibility to those in this situation. This program is not yet available in Maine. Once implemented, benefits will be paid retroactively) 
 

I’m now on unemployment due to a COVID-19 lay-off. Do I still have to do work search?

As of March 23, Maine DOL waived the work search requirement for all individuals on unemployment through May 14 due to the widespread impact of COVID-19 and the volume of temporary business closures. This is consistent with the current duration of the temporary emergency unemployment insurance provisions enacted by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Mills on March 18, 2020.

 

How are “per diem” workers affected?

Per diem workers are covered under unemployment as long as they meet monetary eligibility, are able and available to work and stay in contact with their employer. They should apply for unemployment; their application will be reviewed and Maine DOL will make a determination.

 

How long does the individual have to work to qualify for unemployment? What is “monetary eligibility”?

Unemployment insurance depends on being “monetarily eligible” by review of wages earned over the last five full calendar quarters. Four consecutive quarters within that timeframe must have earnings of at least $5,140.74 and two of the four quarters must have earnings of at least $1,713.58. These amounts are set annually based on the average weekly wages earned by Maine workers. The amount of benefits and the length of time someone can collect are based on how much you earn. For more information, please visit https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/claimsfaq/.

 

Are immigrants and asylum-seekers eligible for UI?

If immigrants or asylum-seekers have work authorization to work in the U.S. and lose their job due to COVID-19, they should apply for unemployment (preferably through the online system, available 24/7). Maine DOL will review the claim on a case-by-case basis as we would all other claims and make a determination about eligibility.

 

Can I get unemployment if I receive Social Security?

Yes, Maine DOL does not offset benefits for Social Security payments.

 

Can college students who have lost work study jobs get unemployment?

Generally, students who are in work study jobs are not (unemployment) covered employees. However, there may be special circumstances that could be considered if students also had other employment beside work study. They are encouraged to apply for unemployment through the online system (available 24/7): www.maine.gov/unemployment.

 

If my employer continues my health insurance while I am on temporary layoff or leave, will this affect my UI benefits?

No, this will not affect your weekly unemployment benefits.

 

I was just about to start a new job and my new employer does not want me to start it yet. Can I collect unemployment insurance?

It depends. You should file a claim for unemployment. Maine DOL will review your employment history and make a determination about eligibility.

 

Is unemployment insurance available for hourly school workers?

Governor Mills signed an Executive Order (15 FY 19/20) on March 19th ordering that all school districts continue to pay their hourly school employees for the duration of this school year. These employees will not be eligible for unemployment insurance because they will be receiving their regular pay, a preferable situation.

 

Are employees of the federal government—such as employees at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard or Togus VA—eligible for unemployment benefits?

These employees are eligible for a separate unemployment program – Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE). Federal employees in Maine will need to apply through ReEmployME for UCFE (https://reemployme.maine.gov/accessme/faces/login/login.xhtml). This is an ongoing program and they can apply at any time. They will likely get a note about a monetary investigation on their account while Maine DOL reaches out for wages from the federal government.

 

What do employees do if they are concerned about safety of their workplace?

 

If employees are concerned about the safety of their workplace, they should express their concerns to their employer or manager and let them try to address the issues. If employees are not comfortable doing that or if the issues are not resolved, they can contact OSHA (if employees work for a private employer or the federal government) at https://www.osha.gov/contactus/bystate/ME/areaoffice or the Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Standards (if employees work for a state or local government) at 207-623-7900 to file a complaint. In addition, please see other items on the Maine DOL website for additional options such as paid leave related to COVID: https://www.maine.gov/labor/covid19/.


 

FAQs: FOR EMPLOYERS


If I must temporarily close part or all of my business operations due to the COVID-19 virus and lay off my employees, will they have to look for other work while they are collecting unemployment benefits?

No. As long as you plan to return them to their jobs when you resume operations, and provided they remain able and available to work for you and provide you with current contact information by which to reach them, they will not have to seek other work.

 

Can an employer who needs to temporarily lay off employees because of COVID-19 continue to pay health insurance premiums for the employee during the layoff period or will that negatively impact the employees’ unemployment benefits?

Continuing to provide health insurance will not impact your employee’s ability to receive unemployment benefits.

 

What if an employer is considering a reduction in work hours?

Employers are encouraged to contact Maine DOL’s Bureau of Unemployment Compensation to learn about Workshare, an unemployment option that helps businesses retain their workforce during a temporary slowdown in work. The program allows employers to voluntarily reduce the hours of staff in lieu of layoffs. Employees of the business are allowed to collect a partial unemployment benefit to help them offset the loss of income. (https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/workshare).

 

Is it better to lay off employees than have employees resign?

It is easier to determine unemployment eligibility in the case of a layoff because there is a clear separation from work. To be eligible for unemployment, individuals must lose their jobs through no fault of their own.

 

Will self-employed, sole proprietors be covered?

If the self-employed are incorporated, they will be eligible for unemployment benefits. However, most independent contractors, small business owners and other self-employed individuals are not incorporated, do not contribute to unemployment taxes and usually are not eligible for unemployment benefits. However, the new temporary federal unemployment programs will cover the self-employed. These new programs are complex, and Maine DOL is working to implement them as quickly as possible. At this moment, those who are self-employed should wait to file a claim for benefits. Since these programs have not been implemented yet, filing at this point will only result in a denial. Maine DOL will continue to provide information as it becomes available.Once implemented, benefits will be paid retroactively.
 

To what extent are the changes in the new bill applicable to people who work for large (500+ employees) employers?

The new state temporary measures in the new legislation are for all covered workers in the state.

 

What about Direct Reimbursement employers—how will new unemployment measures affect us?

Unlike private sector employers, nonprofit and government employers can choose to either pay into the unemployment trust fund or to cover the cost of benefits paid out directly. Private employers must contribute to this social insurance program so that the resources are available during economic downturns. Those who choose not to pay the unemployment tax are typically responsible for 100% of the cost of any benefits paid to former employees. Maine DOL awaits final interpretation of the federal CARES Act from U.S. DOL; it appears that the legislation provides federal funds to cover 50% of the state unemployment benefits that would have otherwise been charged to direct reimbursable employers. Maine cannot waive the remaining 50%. Having no source of funding available to cover these costs would result in the transfer of the liability to taxable private employers. As of December 31, 2019, there were slightly over 1,000 direct reimbursable employers in Maine.
 

If an employer lives in Maine and owns a restaurant in New Hampshire and has employees who live in both states, in which state do the employees apply for unemployment?

The work is being performed in NH so all claimants (workers) will need to file claims in NH regardless of their individual residences.

 

Is an employer required to have employees exhaust all paid time off before putting them on temporary layoff (after which they will apply for unemployment)?

No. Employers are not required to pay out all paid time off before a layoff, but they are allowed to do so. Use of leave time during a temporary layoff depends on an employer’s policies. The employer may require use or payout of leave time. Payments received by the employee may have an impact on unemployment benefits paid to an individual.

 

Is it possible to find out if an employee is eligible for unemployment before the person files a claim?

No, Maine DOL can’t determine whether an individual would be eligible for unemployment before that person separates from the employer. An individual must separate from their employer and then file a claim. Maine DOL reviews the case to make a determination. If an individual is not sure whether they would be eligible, it is best to apply. The individual must still be connected to the labor market in order to receive benefits, be able and available for work and retain contact with the employer.

 

Can I layoff my employees and they get unemployment, can they come back and volunteer to work for me?

Employees cannot volunteer at a for-profit business. Employees cannot volunteer to perform the same work they would normally get paid to do for a public employer. If employees are laid off—by a private or public employer—and then go back in to perform work for their employer, they are employed (not laid off) and must be paid wages. If they are truly laid off, they can apply for unemployment benefits through the online system.

 

I closed my business and laid my staff off a few weeks ago following the Governor’s recommendations for COVID-19. I plan to re-open in early May and have notified my employees I’d like them to return to do their jobs. However, many of them do not want to come back to work and prefer to stay on unemployment especially now that the additional $600/week from the federal program is added to their benefit. What can be done to encourage these workers to come back to my business? Can they just stay on unemployment even if I have told them I want them back to work?

It depends. This is a complex situation and eligibility for unemployment will depend on the claimants’ personal circumstances. When those receiving unemployment benefits file their required weekly certification, they must answer questions regarding whether they have been offered any work in the past week. Employers should let Maine DOL know if they have recalled employees back to work and if those employees have turned down the work offer. Maine DOL will analyze the circumstances on a case-by-case basis to see if there is a valid reason for refusing the work or not. For example, under the new federal programs (e.g. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance-PUA), unemployment benefits are made available to a broader set of people with circumstances affected by COVID-19. 

Maine DOL’s determination may also depend upon the circumstances of the particular workplace, such as whether the employer is taking steps to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure, or such as by following recommendations by the Maine CDC that are in place at the relevant time. If Maine DOL determines that an offer of suitable work was made and that there was no valid reason to refuse it, unemployment benefits including the $600 additional benefit would be disallowed. If regular unemployment benefits are denied, the additional $600 a week in federal benefits (under Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation-FPUC) would also be denied. In any event, the additional $600 benefit under FPUC is temporary and expires July 25th for all applicants.