On March 27, 2020, the government signed into law the Federal CARES Act that later incorporated two changes: increase in weekly benefits by $600 and more ineligible contractors being made eligible for receiving the payments. While that was commendable on the part of the national government, not many states have been able to adhere to those changes, and Maine is among them. As of April 28, 2020, a month after the law came into effect, the state was yet to start accepting unemployment benefits applications from self-employed workers. President Donald Trump, on April 27, 2020, tweeted that we should blame the Democrats for any delay in our Enhanced Unemployment Insurance package because they preferred distributing the money to states instead of depositing it directly. However, the blame game will not make the problem go away, so we have resolved to help you know how to file for unemployment in Maine.
Who is eligible?
Before you even begin filing for your claim, ensure that you are eligible to apply and Nolo outlines the criteria used. To qualify, you must, therefore, have earned at least six times Maine’s average weekly earnings during the base period, meaning in 2019, you must have earned $5,140.74 in the base period. You also need to have earned at least twice the average weekly wage in the state during two or more quarters of the base period, which is $1,713.58 for the 2019 base period.
In this instance, the base period comprises the first four quarters of the five quarters before you applied for your benefit claim. This means that if you filed for your benefit in April 2020, then the base period runs from January 1, 2019, to December 31, 2019. If you do not meet the requirements using the base period, the Department of Labor will use the alternate base period to determine your eligibility. They assess you based on the last four calendar quarters before you filed your claim.
For you to qualify, you should be unemployed through no fault of your own, and if you have been laid off, it should be because of a lack of work, not misconduct or unethical behavior. A suspension will disqualify you from receiving befits, and you will only be eligible once the suspension period is over. For those fired due to unethical behavior, eligibility will be regained only if, in the future, you will earn eight times the weekly benefit amount (WBA). You can also collect benefits if you are fired for lacking the necessary skills to perform the job. However, if you quit your job voluntarily, you can only be eligible if the adjudicator decides you had good cause to quit. Furthermore, retiring voluntarily or being engaged in a labor dispute will also disqualify an applicant from getting the benefits.
Applying for the benefits
Within the first week of the CARES Act going into effect, the Department of Labor received 72,000 applications, and the department disbursed $10 million. The number continued to increase, leading to a system drag both online on the telephone. 250,000 applicants used the 800-593-7660 number to reach the offices on a Monday leading to an overloaded system.
As a result, the department gave out guidelines to enable the residents to get their benefits much more efficiently. Those whose last name starts with an A-H should call on Monday while I-Q to contact the offices on Tuesday and R-Z on Wednesday. That arrangement allows an average of 50,000 calls per day, resulting in a better method to process the claims. If you prefer applying for your benefits online, you can also do so by creating an account online. Online filers can apply 24 hours a day for seven days a week, but it can take up to a couple of days before you know if your claim has been processed.
In Maine, the maximum weekly benefit amount one can receive is $667 if you have dependents and $445 if you do not have dependents. Usually, the state provides the benefit for up to 26 weeks, but thanks to the CARES Act, claimants have an extra 13 weeks to receive the weekly benefits. You should, however, note that the $600 additional amount is standalone, and you are only eligible if you qualify for the other insurance programs.
Applying for unemployment in Maine under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program
Those who do not qualify for the unemployment package can now claim for their benefits through the PUA program that covers the self-employed, nonprofit employees, independent contractors, and others who do not have enough work history or earnings. On May 2, 2020, the Department of Labor said they had begun accepting applications of the PUA claims that morning, and by noon, 3,000 claims had been processed.
The benefits begin at 50% of a state’s average weekly earnings, which is $172 in Maine. Self-employed people should have documents to verify their earnings, and under the PUA, the maximum one can receive is $445 per week, in addition to the $600 weekly benefit. PUA will be available until December 2020, but no one should upload any proof to verify their earnings. Instead, the department will pay the weekly benefits and ask for verification documents later in May 2020. Those whose claims do not require any further review should expect to receive their benefits in a week’s time; the benefits are retroactive, going as early as March 15, 2020, or when an individual lost their job.
However, applying for it is not easy as it sounds with the system experiencing a high influx of claims. One independent contractor from Lewiston said that she had applied thrice online only to receive a “system failure” notice every time when she was midway, so she was not sure if the claim went through or not. All the same, to avoid system delays, people are being encouraged to apply on a laptop or a desktop instead of using mobile phones. Moreover, those who prefer calling can do so through 1-888-413-0820, which, according to WGME has been set aside for the PUA applications only.