Unemployed Alaskans eligible for extra per dependent benefits still waiting to get them since March
Unemployed Alaskans should be receiving extra benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic if they have dependents, but the Department of Labor has been unable to pay them.
was signed into law by the governor in late-March. One measure in the bill increased the amount unemployed Alaskans can receive during the pandemic if they have dependents.
Before COVID-19, Alaskans could receive an extra $24 per dependent each week they received unemployment benefits. Those extra benefits were capped at three dependents.
HB 308 saw that payment rise to $75 per dependent paid each week during the pandemic without a cap on how many dependents that a person could claim.
Despite the legislation taking effect on March 1, the IT department at the Department of Labor has struggled to implement the new program. Deputy Commissioner Cathy Munoz, a spokesperson for the Labor Department, said the tech unit is close to resolving the issue.
“The department has just been honestly overwhelmed by the amount of claims they’ve had to process,” said Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, who chairs the House Labor and Commerce Committee.
Spohnholz said that the Department of Labor expanded programs as quickly as possible during the pandemic and that the per dependent benefit is the last one to implement.
According to data from the department, 18,753 Alaskans are currently unemployed with children. The data doesn't show how many people are in a relationship. Only one person could claim the same dependents to receive extra benefits.
Alaskans who are owed those extra payments for dependents are set to be paid for all the benefits they have missed, Munoz said.
Patience Mills is skeptical, saying her family is close to being owed between $8,000 and $9,000 from the State of Alaska. “We’re not holding our breath,” she said.
The Mills family has seven kids and should be getting an extra $525 per week on top of their unemployment benefits. Instead, they’re getting an extra $72 per week following the old per dependent formula.
“We make it day-by-day, it’s a struggle,” Mills said. The family described keeping up with bills but not having much left over.
Mills worked as an administrative assistant in a juvenile counseling office but was let go in early March due to the pandemic. Her husband Harley Mills is a lineman, working as a contractor in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. He too was let go due to COVID-19.
Both Patience and Harley Mills are getting
in federal assistance on top of their state benefits. But that’s set to expire July 25.
That extra federal help also means they don’t qualify for other benefits such as food stamps.
Getting clear answers from the Department of Labor when things might change is difficult.
“When I actually get through to someone on the phone, it is an absolute runaround,” Mills said. “It's a two-hour process, even when you actually get through to them.”
Spohnholz says she is frustrated by the delay, saying people should remember this isn’t a government benefit but part of the state’s unemployment insurance program. “It’s an unemployment insurance benefit, it’s their right, they earned it by paying into the Unemployment Insurance fund for years,” she said.
“This is a really hard time and for Alaskans with children, this is an even more difficult time,” Spohnholz added. “I would just say, hold on, those benefits will catch up here shortly and the Department of Labor is doing everything that they can to make sure that they do.”