Unemployment claims spike in Maine as coronavirus concerns spread

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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) The number of unemployment claims in Maine has jumped dramatically as businesses are forced to close or scale back operations because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Maine Department of Labor released new numbers Thursday morning. For the week of March 15 to 21 there were 21,459 initial claims. That is compared to 634 initial claims during the previous week.

The most affected industry sectors were accommodation and food services (7,965) and healthcare and social assistance (3,588) followed by manufacturing (1,131) and retail trade (1,103).

“We, along with the rest of the country, are doing everything we can to respond to this historic number of unemployment claims and the questions that come with them,” Commissioner Laura Fortman said. “We know that the partial wage replacement that unemployment benefits provide is a lifeline for families, as well as an economic stabilizer for our local communities in these uncertain times.”

If you need to apply for benefits, the best option is to apply online at www.maine.gov/unemployment.

If you need to apply by phone you can call 1-800-593-7660 between 8 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Monday-Friday. Because so many Mainers have been impacted, the phone queue fills quickly but the department encourages people to keep trying.

Fortman said on Thursday that she highly recommends applying online, "We do not dispute the fact that the on phone process is incredibly backed up. Which is why we are encouraging people to go online. That platform is stable and is able to allow people to file a claim in process that information quickly. Normally it takes 10 days to two weeks to get your first benefit check. This is actually working."