Sen. Vitelli introduces bill to update and improve Maine’s unemployment insurance program

Posted: May 03, 2021 | Labor and Housing, Senator Vitelli

AUGUSTA – On Monday, Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, introduced a bill that would improve Maine’s unemployment insurance system. LD 1564, “An Act To Amend the Laws Governing Unemployment Compensation,” was the subject of a public hearing before the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee.

“During the first half of the pandemic, when Maine’s tourism season was decimated, tens of thousands of Mainers found themselves applying for unemployment insurance, many for the very first time,” said Sen. Vitelli. “They were confronted with a system that was both unprepared to meet the sudden surge in demand, and out of sync with the needs of many Mainers. This bill will help fix some of these problems and give additional support to Mainers when they need it most, including additional supports for working families.”

The bill would make a slew of changes to the unemployment insurance (UI) system to increase efficiency, modernize systems, keep people connected to the workforce and support working families.

Provisions include:

  • An increase in the amount of wages a person can earn working part-time, while still receiving partial UI, to encourage UI recipients to work on a temporary or part-time basis while searching for more permanent employment.
  • Extending the Reemployment Services & Eligibility Assessment Program (RESEA) to more recipients. RESEA aims to help UI recipients secure long-term, sustainable employment, and this expansion would target UI recipients who repeatedly receive UI.
  • Adds an additional automatic trigger for federal extended benefits based on Total Unemployment Rate to support unemployed Mainers during times of high unemployment. The absence of this trigger during the pandemic resulted in seven fewer weeks of federal extended benefits available to recipients.
  • Increases the dependency allowance, a weekly amount added to claimant’s benefits based on the number of children they care for. The current benefit is $10 per child up to a maximum of 50 percent of the recipient’s weekly benefit amount, and has not been changed since it was enacted in 1989. This bill would increase the allowance to $25 per dependent child, up to 60 percent of a recipient’s weekly benefit amount.
  • Allows workers who had to voluntarily leave a job due to loss of child or elder care to claim UI once they are able and available to work again. Caretaking responsibilities fall disproportionately to women, and mass loss of child care during the pandemic resulted in women, especially women of color, leaving the workforce at higher rates than men.
  • Allow individuals to participate remotely in fact-finding interviews and appeals hearings, to align with current practice.
  • Streamlines rulemaking by transferring this authority to the Commissioner of the Department of Labor; this power currently resides with the Unemployment Insurance Commission.
  • Allows the Commissioner of Labor or a designee to grant waivers for overpayments, aligning the process with other states and other elements of the unemployment decision making process.

LD 1564 has the support of the Maine Department of Labor. The bill faces further action in committee.