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As unemployment claims spike in Alaska, state recommends applying for benefits online

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As businesses close amid the coronavirus pandemic, the number of unemployment claims is skyrocketing.

Alaska is seeing a surge of applicants for unemployment payments, the Alaska Department of Labor warned on Tuesday, though exact figures were not immediately available.

“We started experiencing an increase in phone traffic late last week, and that certainly jumped up pretty significantly yesterday and it’s continuing,” Patsy Westcott, director of the state labor department’s Division of Employment and Training Services, said Tuesday.

[Applying for unemployment? Here’s the state’s brochure. Here’s the online help guide.]

With phone lines full, the state is recommending Alaskans apply for unemployment insurance online by going to my.alaska.gov and clicking the link for unemployment insurance benefits.

“It’s a pretty easy process," said Charles Scantlebury, an apprentice with IBEW Local 1547. Scantlebury has applied five times during seasonal lulls in construction.

Who should apply?

Anyone who is “unemployed through no fault of their own” and whose employer paid into the state’s unemployment program is eligible for benefits, Westcott said.

A rule of thumb is that if your position is eliminated or your employer closes, you’re eligible. If you’re fired but your position remains, you might not be eligible.

Even if your employer closes temporarily — for example, if it’s a restaurant affected by this week’s emergency order for Anchorage — you are eligible for unemployment.

“Whether they think they’re eligible or not, they should file,” Westcott said.

When should I apply?

Immediately. The sooner you apply for benefits, the sooner you can receive them. Someone who applied Tuesday could receive money as soon as the week of March 27, Westcott said.

What do I need?

You’ll need information about your last employer — their address and contact information — plus your own banking and contact information. You’ll also need a record of how much you earned. A pay stub works well.

If you’re approved, you’ll need to show that you are actively looking for work.

Scantlebury said in his experience, he needed to go to employers and apply for open positions, then have someone at that business sign a paper verifying that he had asked for a job.

You’ll also need to complete a resume at the state’s online jobs page.

Every two weeks you receive benefits, you’ll be required to refile.

How much can I receive?

The state’s unemployment payments are capped at $370 per week, though you can receive slightly more if you have children or care for an adult.

Your particular payment is based on how much you earned during the previous 15 months.

What if I need to call?

• In Anchorage, call 907-269-4700

• In Fairbanks, call 907-451-2871

• In Juneau, call 907-465-5552

• In all other areas, call 888-252-2557

Westcott said callers should take advantage of the callback system rather than wait on hold. Callers can leave a number and automatically be called back without losing their place in the queue.

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