Members of Alaska’s all-Republican congressional delegation have indicated they want to balance continued high unemployment levels with the nation’s debt and other concerns, as Republican senators released a new $1 trillion relief package to combat COVID-19′s economic fallout.
The measure released Monday by Senate Republicans, known as the “Heals Act” package, included proposals reducing a weekly federal unemployment boost from $600 to $200, issuing a second round of stimulus checks and adding an additional $100 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program that has helped businesses cope with the pandemic.
The office of Sen. Dan Sullivan said on Monday he is still reviewing the details of the newly introduced legislation.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski did not immediately return a request for comment on Monday.
She indicated in an online town hall late last week that she was trying to strike a balance between the nation’s ballooning debt and the unpredictable nature of the pandemic. She said there will continue to be support for small businesses and other needs.
”Believe me, I’m very cognizant this adds to our debt, but I’m also cognizant we’re talking about a government response to economic crisis brought about by a health pandemic,” she said.
Rep. Don Young’s office said on Monday that he supports a solution that helps people who have lost jobs but also one that encourages workers to return to work.
”Businesses in Alaska and across the country are trying to re-open, and they need workers,” the statement from this office, emailed by spokesman Zack Brown, said. “If receiving UI benefits pays more than working, the talent pool for businesses across all sectors shrinks.”
Young wants the economic injury disaster loan and the Paycheck Protection Program to continue to remain available for small businesses, the statement said.
The measure could face resistance from House Democrats, who in May approved a larger aid package and support continuing the $600 pandemic-related boost to unemployment checks.
Congress in March and April approved COVID-19 aid packages that buoyed the economy with $3 trillion in debt, but much of that help is running out for businesses and individuals.
The $600 boost, which has pumped about $40 million weekly into the Alaska economy, is set to end this month.
The reduction of the unemployment payments, if they are passed, could leave thousands of Alaskans unable to pay rent and meet other basic needs, said Mouhcine Guettabi, an economist with the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research Institute.
The stimulus payment, typically $1,200 for an adult, will help for about a month, he said.
Critics have complained that the payments are so high that many people don’t want to return to work, he said. But with the economy still restricted by government mandates and shoppers who are staying home, there simply aren’t 40,000 job vacancies available to help meet staggering unemployment needs, he said.
In the last three months, unemployment levels in Alaska have skyrocketed to record highs, including 12.4% in June.
More than 60,000 Alaskans have collected unemployment benefits during the pandemic. The state has traditionally paid $250 a week, on average, so the federal boost is significant.
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