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Business/Economy

$300 boost to Alaska state unemployment payments to begin next week

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development office in midtown Anchorage on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. The building houses the Job Center, which provides services to out-of-work Alaskans. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Eligible Alaskans receiving unemployment checks from the state will see a $300 boost to their weekly payments starting next week, after Gov. Mike Dunleavy in August approved the increase to replace the $600 boost from Congress that ended in July.

The program will cost $62 million in federal money, said Cathy Muñoz, deputy commissioner at the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, in a statement on Monday.

The money comes from a federal disaster relief fund for unemployment aid, after President Donald Trump in August signed an executive order that allowed states to use the money.

On average, the state has traditionally paid about $250 in weekly unemployment benefits, so the extra federal income is sizable.

The payments will be made retroactively to when the $600 weekly boost ended on July 31, said Muñoz.

“The eligibility period is for six weeks and will be from the week ending Aug. 1 until the week ending Sept. 5,” Muñoz said. “The payments will be made on a weekly basis, and not as one lump sum.”

Most recipients, including those with children, will qualify, said Lennon Weller, an economist with the state Labor department.

Alaskans who did not receive at least $100 in unemployment since the week ending Aug. 1 will not qualify.

The money could come at a critical time for many families, with the state not sending the annual Alaska Permanent Fund dividend in October this year, as it traditionally has. The state paid the dividend in July to provide assistance earlier.

About 40,000 people in Alaska received unemployment benefits in the last full week of September, down from a weekly peak of 68,000 in mid-May. About 12% of the state’s workforce is receiving the assistance.

The federal government approved Alaska’s application to provide the $300 boost in early September, Muñoz said. The state estimated the program would take about seven weeks to implement, so the agency is on track.

The state has not paid the money more quickly due to “a number of programming changes to the mainframe system, training, and finalization of operation agreements” with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Labor, Muñoz said.

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