Alaska labor department says unemployment claims are four times higher now than before COVID-19 closures

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As of Tuesday morning, House Bill 308 has made its way through both sides of the legislature with substantial support and is now sitting on the governor's desk, awaiting final authorization.

HB308 would unlock unemployment insurance benefits for those who have lost significant wages as a result of precautionary closures as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.

On the House floor last week, Rep. Ivy Spohnholz (D-Anchorage) spoke to the amount of funding available for such a measure. Citing staff from the Department of Labor, she says that the state should be able to handle an 800% increase in unemployment assistance for the next 12 months.

Dept. of Labor Deputy Commissioner Cathy Muñoz says that even though the bill has not yet taken effect, an increased number of applications are already being processed. She encourages impacted Alaskans to apply online as early as possible.

"We're estimating about a four-fold increase in claims at this moment," Munoz said.

Historically, February is one of the months where Alaska's state unemployment payouts are the highest.

On average, the state pays out $10 million in unemployment during the month of February. Now, Muñoz projects that COVID-19 closures will put monthly payouts at around $40 million.

Additional language within HB308 will change the amount available per dependent from $25 to $75. This money would be available on top of the currently cap of $375 per week, per claimant.

The bill also waives the traditional one week period that an applicant will have to wait to start receiving unemployment. Muñoz says that once the bill receives final approval, her department will be ready to go forward processing claims.

"We're putting into place the policies and tools that will get the resources to people right away," she said.

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