Gov. Dunleavy aims to boost unemployment benefits by $300, half the expired amount

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a news conference on March 31. On Thursday, Dunleavy announced he had authorized the state to pursue $300 in additional weekly unemployment benefits for those who are unemployed due to COVID-19. (Office of the Governor)

Alaskans who are unemployed due to COVID-19 would receive $300 more weekly than normal under a plan announced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Thursday. But that amount is $300 less than they had been receiving.

Dunleavy’s announcement follows President Donald Trump’s executive order to provide up to $400 in additional benefits. 

Dunleavy authorized the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development to apply with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay out the additional benefits. 

The state Division of Employment and Training Services has started applying for a FEMA grant. Division Director Patsy Westcott said it’s unknown when Alaskans will start being paid.

“It’s not clear at this time to Alaska — or to any state, for that matter — as to when FEMA will be making the awards,” she said.

The Trump administration has provided enough funding to cover only roughly five weeks. 

The federal administration gave states three options: 

  • to not participate in the program; 
  • to pay $400, which would require states to cover $100 of the benefits; and
  • to pay $300, which would allow states to draw the full amount from the federal government.

Dunleavy chose the $300 option. 

Westcott said the state is doing what it can.

“The administration is committed to pursuing all avenues in order to bring relief to unemployed workers in Alaska, who need the partial benefit replacement so that they can put food on the table and make their electric bill,” she said.

Westcott encouraged unemployed Alaskans to reach out to the state’s job centers for help finding work.

The U.S. House, Senate and the Trump administration have not reached an agreement for extending pandemic relief. House leaders have called for extending the $600 in additional benefits that ended in late July. Senate leaders proposed reducing the additional benefits to $200 through September, then increasing them up to $500, but limiting total benefits to 70 percent of workers’ pre-unemployment pay.

Roughly 88,000 Alaskans have received additional unemployment insurance since March. The current number is roughly 55,000.

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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