Maine labor officials, business owners react as federal unemployment benefits end
BREWER, Maine (WABI) - This Labor Day weekend, thousands of Mainers must head back to work - or lost some of their unemployment benefits.
Congress voted to end federal compensation offered since the pandemic began, including the $300 weekly stipend for those without a job. The benefits ran out in Maine on Saturday.
Laura Fortman, commissioner of the Maine Department of Labor, says roughly 21,000 Mainers will be affected by this decision, but with new unemployment claims at their lowest since March 2020, now was the right time for the temporary provisions to end.
“In Maine, our unemployment rate is 4.9 percent,” Fortman said. “We have steadily seen that number go down, and we’ve also steadily seen the number of jobs increasing.”
The DOL says since the pandemic began, Maine has spent more than $2.4 billion in unemployment benefits, including $1.8 billion from those federal programs.
Maine’s businesses have been spending too. Mason’s Brewing Company in Brewer is hiring. General Manager Jake Bridges is focusing on keeping his employees with bonuses and other perks.
“Taking really good care across the board of people that bust their butt,” Bridges said. “They’re the engine of your restaurant. The kitchen’s the engine, and if you don’t have that, it’s a pretty car but it doesn’t go anywhere.”
Bridges is hopeful that the end of the stipend will lead to more people seeking jobs.
“I hope it helps,” Bridges said. “I hope it gets people coming out and back into the workforce. They’re going to see a lot more competitive wages, and I hope that’s across the board.”
“It’s a multi-faceted challenge,” Fortman said. “I think employers and workers are stepping up and making adjustments in their lives in order to accommodate this.”
Although the federal pandemic benefits have ended, Mainers can still apply for state unemployment.
The Maine Department of Labor recommends that claimants take advantage of its CareerCenter services, including hiring events, consulting meetings and job matching.
You can find out more at maine.gov/labor.
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