Alaska Legislature

Alaska Legislature approves unemployment-aid bill, Gov. Dunleavy expected to sign

JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature sent a coronavirus unemployment aid bill to the desk of Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Monday with unanimous support even as some Democrats warned that it is likely insufficient to meet demand.

Dunleavy has indicated he will sign the bill. Once it becomes law, many Alaskans affected by coronavirus quarantine rules will be eligible to claim unemployment.

More than 4,000 Alaskans filed for unemployment last week, according to state figures.

[As jobless claims in Alaska soar, economists say tens of thousands of workers could be affected]

Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, said people who run their own businesses, such as fishermen, massage therapists and barbers, will not be covered by the bill.

“These barbers who rent chairs for $75 and cut hair for eight hours, nine hours a day, they’re out of work, and they don’t get unemployment,” he said.

Alaskans who work as contractors, those in the “gig economy" driving for Uber and Lyft, also are not eligible for unemployment.


Other coronavirus bills in progress

Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, said senators are drafting a comprehensive bill intended to deal with the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. That bill has not been published.

Also in the Senate, senators have written legislation that would extend the governor’s declaration of coronavirus emergency through March 2021. A provision of that bill would allow Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer to order that the state’s fall primary and general elections be conducted by mail, if conditions warrant.

Another Senate resolution would allow the Legislature to refrain from holding hearings for more than three days. Lawmakers want to disperse but be able to reconvene if needed to authorize emergency legislation.

In the House, lawmakers have proposed legislation that would temporarily suspend evictions and temporarily forbid utilities from disconnecting service because of an Alaskan’s inability to pay bills.

State declines to release unemployment figures

Though unemployment insurance claims are rising quickly amid state and federal emergency closures orders businesses, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development can no longer release a daily count of the claims many Alaskans are filing, said Lennon Weller, an economist with the agency.

Weller last week had provided reporters with a mid-week update based on a daily count. The count showed a large number of layoffs had followed the widespread closures that began Monday.

The U.S. Department of Labor has requested that state Labor agencies not release daily reports, in order to avoid spooking stock markets that have crashed in recent weeks, Weller said.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.