Economy

Department of Labor announces updates to its Back-to-Work grant program

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On July 1, the Department of Labor (DOL) announced updates, including retroactive eligibility for part-time employees, to its Back-to-Work grant program.

Gov. Mills announced the program on June 14. Under the program’s original rules, qualifying new hires with a start date in June were eligible to receive a one-time grant of $1,500. Qualifying employees with a start date in July were to receive $1,000. But the DOL is now extending the $1,500 grant for the duration of the program, which runs until July 25 of this year. 

In its July 1 press release, DOL reported that as of June 30, over 100 employers had applied for grants for approximately 300 workers. 

If all 300 workers received the $1,500 benefit, the grant program has paid out $45,000, or 4.5%, of the $10 million available, which the DOL originally announced would be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

DOL announced that more than 20% of initial applications were from the accommodation and food services industry. Other fields with a high number of applicants include administrative and waste services, as well as healthcare and social assistance workers.

In its July 1 update the DOL also announced part-time employees working at least 20 hours a week for a single employer and who are no longer receiving unemployment benefits will be retroactively eligible to receive a one-time payment of $750. 

Under the new rules, part-time new hires must have received unemployment benefits for the week ending May 29, 2021 and have started one part-time job in Maine by June 15. They must work for at least eight weeks at a job that pays less than $25 per hour and cannot receive unemployment benefits during their period of employment. 

But Maine residents can work part-time and still receive partial unemployment benefits, including the $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit. 

Under the partial unemployment program, part-time employees whose weekly earnings are less than the weekly benefit for which they are eligible plus $5, can still receive a partial benefit. That benefit is equal to the difference between the full weekly benefit for which an individual is qualified and an individual’s weekly earnings over $100. For the purposes of calculating unemployment benefits, Maine law disregards the first $100 per week an individual earns.

In any week an individual qualifies for a partial unemployment benefit, he or she also qualifies for the full $300 weekly federal benefit. The federal enhanced unemployment program runs until September 4. Although approximately half the states in the nation have ended their participation in the program, Maine has announced no plans to do so. 

The DOL reported that for the week ending June 26, roughly 3,300 unemployment claimants reported having partial earnings. In the same time period, DOL processed approximately 1,400 initial claims for state unemployment and approximately 9,400 continued claims, as well as 11,000 weekly certifications filed under the federal unemployment program. 

The number of initial claims filed was down approximately 11.5% from the previous week. 

The DOL did not return a request for comment about whether it believes the state’s partial unemployment program will affect the number of Back-to-Work grant applications it receives for part-time workers.

About Katherine Revello

Katherine Revello is a reporter for The Maine Wire. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine. Her writing has appeared in Reason, The Washington Examiner, and various other publications. Got news tips? Contact Katherine at krevello@mainepolicy.org.

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