STATEWIDE — Maine lawmakers want to help reform the unemployment insurance system.
Tens of thousands of people seeking unemployment assistance at the beginning of the pandemic exposed flaws in the existing state program.
The legislature’s labor and housing committee held public hearings Monday for six bills with one purpose—repairing Maine’s unemployment insurance system.
“Maine people suffered just when they were facing the most trying and stressful times of the pandemic,” said Senator Rick Bennett, (R) – Oxford.
“I’ve been unemployed since covid-19 entered Maine last April and I have not been able to access benefits. The online questionnaire format forced me to submit inaccurate incomplete information because it doesn’t allow for any circumstances not listed,” said Melissa Hunnibell, an unemployed resident in Maine.
“Instead of having the department frantically search for and train new employees which is what we saw at the beginning of this pandemic, you already have folks who are in our communities part of organizations who can be at the ready when called upon,” said House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, (D) – Biddeford.
Ryan Fecteau said the navigation program lawmakers want to use will help people access benefits easier.
“This is a model that’s been used and it’s tried and true,” said Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO.
“This bill will help ensure eligible Mainers can easily apply for UI benefits through a peer navigator program reducing the likelihood of delays I was subject to. To use an appropriate tag line the system is broken but this bill is the first step in fixing it and organizing the Maine unemployment system,” said Jeff Debuigne, an unemployed insurance recipient in Maine.
Lawmakers will decide in just a few weeks whether to recommend the bills to the state’s legislature.