Unemployed Alaskans can receive relief with expanded unemployment insurance benefits

Jobless Alaskans due to COVID-19 have turned to unemployment, with 36,000 applications sent into the State of Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development in the last three weeks, Lennon Weller, an economist for the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said in an Anchorage Daily News article published on April 8.

Left without work due to COVID layoffs, 36,000 Alaskans have applied for unemployment benefits in the last three
weeks. Photo by Christina Swayney.

Applicants are encouraged to apply online at the State of Alaska site since phone lines are backed up with the surge of applicants. Cathy Muñoz, the deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor says the unemployment rate in Alaska saw a drastic increase because of COVID-19.

“Before the COVID-19 health emergency struck, we were at the lowest level of unemployment in the history of our state, so you can imagine we went from very low filings to very high filings almost overnight,” Muñoz said in an April 8 Alaska Public Media article.

The Senate recently passed a $2 trillion dollar Coronavirus Aid Package, which includes expanded unemployment insurance benefits. Part of the bill aims to make unemployment more accessible to more people and provide greater amounts of financial support, according to The U.S. Department of Labor.

House Bill 308, an unemployment insurance benefits bill, passed on March 26 in Alaska under the Corona Response Act. The bill will add an additional $600 per week to unemployment checks, called Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, on top of approved state benefits. It will also allow an increase for dependent’s allowances from $25 per dependent to $75. The Pandemic Unemployment Compensation will apply until July 31.

As of April 11, the $600 Pandemic Unemployment Compensation funds are available and will be disbursed starting on April 13, according to The Alaska Department of Workforce and Labor Development Unemployment Insurance site.

Unemployment benefits have also been opened to the self-employed, contract workers and gig workers, though benefits for individuals that fall under these categories may be delayed possibly a month or more. Part-time workers or on-call workers are also eligible for benefits and will be reviewed on a case by case basis. Workers who are claimed as dependents on someone else’s tax returns, like the parents of that worker, may not qualify for unemployment benefits.

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To receive benefits, applicants are traditionally required to file for unemployment with work searches every two weeks to show that they are actively looking for a job while they are unemployed. Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development commissioner Dr. Tamika Ledbetter announced on the department’s website that applicants could apply every week for a steadier income. Benefits provided by The State of Alaska can be disbursed to accounts by direct deposit or a debit card.

To apply for Alaska Unemployment Insurance Benefits, create an account with The State of Alaska, My Alaska site, then click on Unemployment Insurance Benefits, which will lead to The State of Alaska Labor of Workforce Development site, where the application for unemployment benefits can begin.

For questions about Alaska Unemployment Insurance Benefits, call the Anchorage Unemployment Insurance office at (907) 269-4700 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday-Friday, email them at [email protected] or refer to the Unemployment Insurance Claimant Handbook. Those affected by COVID-19 can also refer to The Alaska Department of Workforce and Labor Development Unemployment Insurance site, which provides a question and answer section about unemployment insurance benefits directly related to COVID-19.