JUNEAU — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has approved a plan to increase state unemployment benefits by $300 per week, his office said in a written statement Thursday. That’s equal to half of a now-expired $600 boost approved by Congress earlier this year.
The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development was unable to say when Alaskans will receive the additional money, and when it begins, it’s not expected to last long: The Federal Emergency Management Agency fund used to pay it is expected to run out within five weeks.
Since late July, the state’s unemployment benefit has been a maximum of $370 per week, plus a stipend for adults caring for children.
Last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that allows states to use money from a FEMA disaster relief fund for unemployment aid. The president claimed it allows states to increase benefits up to $400 per week, but doing so requires them to come up with one-quarter of the money.
In Alaska, that would have cost between $100 million and $160 million, according to rough estimates compiled by the Alaska Department of Labor, which presented three options to Dunleavy for implementing the order.
Rather than opt out of the president’s plan or try to find the extra money, Dunleavy chose a middle option, which calls for Alaska to use existing unemployment aid as the matching money required to receive federal help.
That eliminates a potential cost to the state treasury because unemployment payments come from a trust fund filled by taxes on employers and employees.
But for Alaskans on unemployment, it means $300 extra per week, not $400.
Patsy Westcott, who directs the state division in charge of unemployment aid, said she is unaware of any state that has chosen to come up with the money needed to pay the maximum $400-per-week boost.
Jeff Turner, the governor’s deputy communications director, said it would be correct to say the governor was concerned by the prospect of having to come up with additional money. The state has been operating at a significant deficit since 2013, and its main savings accounts outside the Permanent Fund are forecast to be empty by July 1.
“The administration decided on the $300 option because it allowed the state to utilize existing UI trust funds while preserving the state’s dwindling cash reserves,” Turner said in a written statement.
“It is also important to recognize that Congress and the federal administration are expected to enact new federal economic relief legislation that will provide further assistance to unemployed Americans and businesses later this year,” he said.
Westcott said paying the additional benefit requires the state to first apply for a FEMA grant. Once the grant is approved, it can begin the bonus payments.
She said Alaskans receiving at least $100 in unemployment since the week ending Aug. 1 will receive the $300-per-week bonus. Before that week, Alaskans had been receiving a $600-per-week unemployment boost authorized by Congress.
That boost expired July 25 after Congress was unable to agree on terms to extend it.
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