Unemployment woes

Visitors to Mount Desert Island are often pleasantly surprised that there are more businesses open year-round now than there used to be.

Many of them close for a month or six weeks for repairs, deep cleaning, to cut the losses often incurred by staying open in the slowest months or just for some well-earned time off.

Making sure employees are not left high and dry during these temporary shutdowns is precisely what the state unemployment insurance program is for. It was originally conceived for downturns in manufacturing businesses. The service economy is no less cyclical and no less important. It’s in the public interest for employees to stay put, not move away the moment they’re laid off. When the business is able to bring them back aboard, they’ll be available. The cost of the program is born by employers, who pay into it every pay period.

This winter’s struggles with the new EmployME online system for unemployment insurance hit many Mount Desert Island residents hard. Some sought help from their legislators or legislative party offices in navigating the glitchy new system.

Even here, there appears to be partisan division. While everyone more or less agrees on the problems and the goals, some administration officials and Republican leaders played down serious problems. Some Democrats seemed too eager to highlight perfectly understandable technical difficulties to embarrass the LePage administration.

Whatever technology employed, the Department of Labor needs to be sufficiently staffed to help residents access the benefits to which they are entitled. If an investigation into problems with this winter’s unemployment program is to be undertaken, it should be firmly focused on improving service in the future, not scoring political points.

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