State announces extended UI benefits available

Grant funds totally nearly $20 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are coming to Alaska to provide a $300 weekly increase in addition to regular unemployment benefits, but only about 35,000 of 60,000 filers will be eligible for that additional aid.

According to Cathy Munoz, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, some 20,000 of the 60,000 people currently applying for unemployment benefits are self-employed Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) filers.

The program is expected to run from six to eight weeks, she said.

“Since the FEMA program requires a 25 percent state share, PUA filers will not be eligible for the additional benefit since 100 percent of PUA costs are funded with federal receipts,” Munoz said Monday, Aug. 24, in response to questions about eligibility for the additional benefit. “Also, UI recipients who receive less than $100 in state benefits, or approximately 4,000 Alaskans, will not be eligible.”

Alaska Department of Labor Commissioner Tamika Ledbetter has directed staff to reach out to these Alaskans with individualized employment and training services, she said.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced the extension of the federal unemployment benefit earlier in the day, saying that the additional $300 a week “will help provide financial relief for those who need it the most.”

The FEMA grant was made available to Alaska under the Lost Wages Assistance program in the amount of $19,902,565. Dispersing of that money is expected to take about eight weeks and payments are to be retroactive to July 25, the date when the $600 of federal unemployment benefits ended, the governor’s office said.

Since March 1, some 88,000 Alaskans have received unemployment insurance benefits totaling nearly $700 million in federal and state funds, with about $89 million of that money going to independent business owners.

The Lost Wages Assistance funds are being made available to all states and territories to provide financial aid to those who have lost work due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are receiving unemployment benefits.

Alaska’s congressional delegation issued a statement applauding the FEMA funds, saying they would go a long way to help Alaskans who are temporarily out of work, as they work on long term solutions to the economic issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic.