Weeks after the aid was first promised, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development said it will begin issuing a $300 weekly boost to unemployment benefits on Friday to support people who have lost work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The money will go to people who were eligible for at least $100 in weekly unemployment insurance benefits for the week ending Aug. 1 through Sept. 5, the agency said Thursday in a prepared statement.
“I am pleased that this funding is now ready to be disbursed at a critical time to help Alaskans impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Tamika Ledbetter, Alaska labor commissioner.
Ledbetter on Friday said over the phone that the money would come as a retroactive lump sum. Payments could total $1,800 for those eligible for all six weeks.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Christine Spinelli of Palmer, who lost work as a tour bus operator this summer when the pandemic kneecapped tourism.
Her family of four, including two children and a husband who also lost work this summer, needs the money to help catch up on bills.
Lynn Cyr of Fairbanks said she has a compromised immune system, creating a higher risk of severe health complications if she catches the virus. She left her job as a pizza delivery driver in March to stay safer at home.
Since a $600 federal weekly boost to unemployment ended in July, she’s been borrowing from family to buy food and pay bills.
The extra $300 weekly benefit, atop her usual $250 weekly unemployment payment, will help cover expenses for one to two months. Getting it as a lump sum will help, but it will go quickly, she said.
“Then it will start all over again,” she said of her financial difficulty, and she’ll still be in debt to her family.
President Donald Trump in August approved the extra money to replace the $600 boost, after Congress this summer could not pass a new, major stimulus bill. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is funding the program. It will cost $62 million in Alaska.
Alaska appears to be the last of 49 states approved for the program to issue the emergency unemployment aid, experts have said.
The state had blamed the delay on technical programming glitches associated with setting up an entirely new and unique system to account for and deliver the payments.
The state labor department, in the statement on Friday, said that FEMA formally approved Alaska’s application in early September, and the state said implementation could take up to two months.
“The federal guidance included a requirement to account for and report these payments separately since they are not considered unemployment benefits,” the state labor department said in the statement.
“As stewards of public funding, it is my duty to ensure that our systems operate with integrity and accuracy,” Ledbetter said.
Muñoz on Thursday did not immediately say specifically what day the money would hit bank accounts.
About 45,000 people are eligible for the extra money, said Lennon Weller, an economist with the Alaska labor department. The pandemic has tossed thousands of people out of work, putting about 12% of the workforce on unemployment benefits in recent weeks.
Before the pandemic, the state paid an average of $250 in weekly unemployment payments.
Emergency sources of federal aid tied to the CARES Act in the spring buoyed the economy for months, helping businesses and families cover expenses, Weller said.
But most of the aid has long since dried up, helping stall the economic momentum seen in the summer, he said.
“We basically have recovered as much as we are going to from those factors,” he said.
Ledbetter said people who are out of work should connect with the department’s Reemployment Services.
“The Alaska Job Center Network is reporting job openings across all industries with higher demand in the health care, education, retail and seafood industries," she said.
The state labor department works with other entities to provide employment and training information at 14 Alaska job centers statewide, and job seekers can call 877-724-2539 for more information.