U.S. Sens. Murkowski, Sullivan connect Alaskans to critical federal resources

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Federal relief is on its way to Alaskans, but because so many people are applying for that relief at once the system is under intense strain.

[RELATED: $16M funneled into Alaska healthcare system via CARES Act]

U.S. Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, talked about COVID-19 relief options with Alaskans in a Thursday teleconference.

"This is not recovery, this is getting us stable," Murkowski said.

The U.S. Congress has expanded Unemployment Eligibility in a major economic relief package -- the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (or CARES) Act -- to deliver fast aid in the wake of COVID-19.

Murkowski and Sullivan said calls were pouring in from independent business owners in the gig economy -- everyone from commercial fishermen to hair stylists -- saying their unemployment applications were being denied.

Sullivan said while the federal government has updated eligibility requirements to include gig workers and employers, "The updated system for the state has not caught up with the requirements and eligibility provided in new federal laws."

By Friday gig workers and businesses in Alaska will be eligible to file for economic relief, but it will take time for these applications to process.

"It's just going to take a few more weeks for the Alaska Unemployment Insurance Division to make these adjustments," Murkowski said.

Small Business Administration loans of up to $10,000 have been made available, as well as loan forgiveness to businesses that are retaining their employees. But these resources are similarly strained and may take longer than anticipated to be processed.

"In two weeks' time banks have had more applications than they normally do in a year," Murkowski said.

Despite the backlog of applications businesses are encouraged to apply for loans and unemployment benefits. Murkowski and Sullivan ask those experiencing issues with their applications to call their D.C. offices.

"We will work with you, around the clock, to make sure the resources that are intended for our state and our country to get through this unprecedented period can do that," Sullivan said.

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