Maine is nearing $2 billion in unemployment benefits issued since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March 2020, the state Department of Labor reported Thursday.
The current spending total of $1.96 billion includes money from the state unemployment trust fund, but also federal funds for extra weekly payments and unemployment aid for those not usually eligible for state benefits.
The balance of Maine’s unemployment trust fund was $440.7 million at the end of December, the most recent date available, down about $60 million from its $499.1 million total at the end of January 2020.
Meanwhile, the number of new claims filed for state unemployment benefits dropped last week to its lowest level since November.
Roughly 1,500 initial claims for state benefits and about 130 claims for federal benefits were filed in the first week of March, according to the labor department. Altogether, the claims represent about 2,000 people filing a new claim or reopening a previous claim, the department said. More than 49,000 continuing claims for state and federal benefits were filed last week.
The number of new claims filed was the lowest since mid-November, before the stress of the pandemic and seasonal hiring trends pushed claims higher during the winter months. New claims for state assistance last week were twice as high as they were a year ago, just before the coronavirus pandemic threw tens of thousands of people out of work.
Nationally, the number of new unemployment benefit claims filed fell last week to 712,000, the lowest total since early November, The Associated Press reported. It’s evidence that fewer employers are cutting jobs amid a decline in confirmed coronavirus cases and signs of an improving economy, AP said.
The U.S. Labor Department said Thursday that applications for unemployment aid dropped by 42,000 from 754,000 the week before, according to AP. Though the job market has been slowly strengthening, many businesses remain under pressure, and 9.6 million jobs remain lost to the pandemic that flattened the economy 12 months ago.
This story will be updated.