Speaker Fecteau proposes reform to unemployment insurance system

Unemployment insurance system report unveiled, Speaker Fecteau proposes reform
A survey of over 300 Maine people reveals Maine’s UI system problems    

 March 23, 2021

AUGUSTA – In a press conference today, University of Maine Professor Sandra Butler unveiled a report that underscores the need for Maine to update the unemployment insurance system to reflect the structure of today’s economy and workforce. Impacted workers described their experience navigating Maine’s unemployment insurance system and Speaker Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford outlined the need for reform. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fact that our state unemployment system is insufficient and needs to be strengthened and improved for the workforce of the 21st century, said Speaker Fecteau.This session, I will be submitting a comprehensive bill that will address some of the most significant flaws in the system. This bill is about recognizing where the government can make improvements and reform for the sake of Maine people.”

A bill from Speaker Fecteau will be unveiled later this session that aims to improve Maine’s unemployment insurance system. LR 1631 will be a product of the experiences of Mainers laid off during the pandemic and intends to help fix the state’s system.

Findings from a January survey of over 300 Maine people on their experience navigating the unemployment insurance system was presented.  In January, Maine AFL-CIO and Maine Equal Justice, in collaboration with a number of worker organizations and community groups, disseminated a questionnaire to individuals who had accessed the UI system in this past year.  321 respondents to the survey represent the population of UI recipients in Maine, based on age, race, education, and occupation. Moreover, respondents came from all 16 counties in the state.

“The COVID-19 health crisis did not create the problems in the UI system, but it has served to expose them.  Before the pandemic, only one in four unemployed Mainers received UI, with part-time workers, low-wage workers, women, the long-term unemployed, and people of color being the most likely to be left out,” said UMaine Professor Sandra Butler. “This very low recipiency rate reflects ongoing neglect of the UI system, which has failed to adapt to changes in the US workforce over the past 50 years, including far more part-time employment and ever-increasing numbers of women in the workforce.” 

To modernize Maine’s unemployment insurance system and to ensure that Maine’s system runs smoothly to help people get back on their feet, the experiences of impacted workers were important in this bill’s creation. Today’s press conference included the voices of a volunteer navigator and an impacted worker. 

“Over the past year, I have become intimately familiar with countless struggling Mainers in my work as a volunteer moderator in the Maine AFL-CIO’s Unemployment Assistance Group. When federal enhanced benefits ran out, there were people in our group who lost their homes, were evicted from their apartments and forced to sell their belongings. Some even resorted to selling plasma to survive,” said Suzy Young of Winterport, a fiber artist and administrator for the Maine Unemployment Assistance Group. “What scares me is that when federal enhanced benefits go away, there will be many people who find themselves without a proper lifeline when they lose their jobs or have their hour cut through no fault of their own. I support this bill because we need a state unemployment system that supports working people when they fall on hard times.”

“It took me forever to get the ten weeks of unemployment benefits I was owed because the system wasn’t working. After fleeing an abusive domestic situation with my daughter, we ended up homeless and I couldn’t even afford to shelter in a hotel room for one night. It was incredibly stressful to go through the process of filing for unemployment and I think some of those MDOL employees thought I was a crazy woman when in fact I was just in desperate need of help,” said Delphine Swormstedt of Portland. “Our system is severely flawed and in immediate, desperate need of fixing. I urge our legislators to do right by working Mainers and pass this bill.”

Final language of the bill is expected to be released in the coming weeks.



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