Dr. Tamika Ledbetter, Commissioner, Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development)

Dr. Tamika Ledbetter, Commissioner, Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. (Photo courtesy Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development)

Point of View: State is helping those unemployed by pandemic

Federal and state legislation has expanded unemployment insurance benefits for Alaskans affected by the COVID-19 epidemic. Since the initial public health orders were announced, many impacted Alaskans have applied. As of the week ending March 21, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development processed 13,774 new claims for Unemployment Benefits — a significant increase in applications from the preceding week. Claims are substantially increasing each day.

Please be patient. Unemployment Insurance Program staff are working around the clock to meet demand. We have moved staff from other divisions in the department to help with the effort, and many retirees are reporting to duty to assist.

The best way to file is online. You will need to have your MyAlaska account information ready when you apply, including password and log-in information. If you do not have access to a computer, please call one of the call centers, Anchorage 269-4700, Juneau 465-5552 or Fairbanks 451-2871, or outside of those areas 888-252-2557. Applications can be done over the phone. The phone lines can accommodate 250 callers at one time. When calls surpass that number, some have reported disconnections. Our IT team is working to address these issues. Additionally, the department is implementing a number of strategies to address the increased volume of workload and ability to assist every Alaskan.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed into law House Bill 308 with new provisions for unemployment insurance meant to expedite payments to Alaskans and to allow for flexibility. For instance, the one-week waiting period and the actively seeking employment requirement for those impacted by COVID-19 will be waived. The legislation also increases the per-dependent weekly benefit to $75 and makes payments retroactive to March 1. We have also implemented weekly vs. biweekly filing so that individuals can receive payment on a weekly basis.

Federal law now extends unemployment insurance benefits for the first time to the self-employed. This is a brand new program, and we are diligently working with the U.S. Department of Labor to address the requirements and system preparedness, including IT upgrades and training and staffing to accommodate the added workload. The federal legislation extends the eligibility period by 13 weeks and includes a weekly benefit payment of $600. Both the currently covered unemployment insurance recipients and the newly covered self-employed will be eligible for the $600 payment.

Please be advised that system changes to accommodate the newly eligible self-employed will take time. We are anticipating four to six weeks before system upgrades will be operational. My team will be reaching out to the public through all forms of media when the division is ready to process applications for the self-employed.

For updates on federal legislation and policies related to COVID-19, please refer to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development website. Here you will find information for employers and employees, as well as USDOL advisories for the public.

I am encouraged by the cooperation and coordination at all levels of government to meet the challenges of this pandemic. Alaskans are resilient and I am confident that we will get through this difficult period. Thank you for everything that you are doing to help those most impacted.

Dr. Tamika Ledbetter is the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

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