After almost 5 months of waiting, extra pandemic unemployment payments for parents are coming

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Published: Aug. 7, 2020 at 3:33 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development says that extra per dependent unemployment payments for parents will start being disbursed on Monday.

The governor signed House Bill 308 into law in March, it increased the amount that Alaskans could receive per dependent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the law passed, 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 until Nov. 15 without a cap on how many dependents that a person could claim.

Cathy Munoz, a spokesperson for the Department of Labor, said that families will receive a retroactive lump sum payment for up to three dependents on Monday. Families with more than three dependents will receive a second retroactive payment for additional dependents later next week.

Recipients who are back at work will still receive the benefits that are owed to them, Munoz said. The benefits are considered taxable income.

The Department of Labor says roughly $15 million will be paid out due to the new program being implemented.

Kristen McLaughlin, a mother of one, has an auto-immune disease and stopped working at the Alaska Trucking Association in April. “It felt a lot better to be home and be safe,” she said.

McLaughlin’s Anchorage office is being retrofitted so she can work safely as the Division of Motor Vehicles manager and interact with members of the public.

She estimates that she’ll receive $990 from the extra per dependent payments. “There’s still a couple of bills that are going to pop up sooner than I’m going to get paid, and this is going to make a huge difference,” she said.

Her frustration wasn’t so much with the delayed payments but the difficulty in finding out when she would be paid. “Nothing was really being said, the unemployment website would tell you that we’re working on it. If you called, you’d get told three different answers,” McLaughlin said.

As of July 25, there were 60,802 Alaskans making continued claims for unemployment payments when all the benefit programs are combined.

The Department of Labor said that 22,669 Alaskan filers have dependents but only a head of a household can receive the expanded payments. It’s estimated that around 15,000 Alaskans will be eligible for the extra benefits.

Munoz explained in June that the delays in paying the expanded benefits were because the department’s IT team had struggled to implement the program. A huge unemployment rise due to the pandemic saw programs expanded and new ones created. The per dependent payment program was the last one to be implemented by the Department of Labor during the pandemic, Munoz said.

The boost in per dependent payments comes after the $600 in extra federal unemployment benefits ended in late-July. Congress has failed to come to an agreement on extending expanded federal benefits during the pandemic. The stalemate at the federal level has seen unemployment payments drop to $275 per week on average for Alaskans.

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, the chair of the House Labor and Commerce, said changing unemployment benefits will likely be discussed when the Legislature convenes for its regular session in January.

Alaska has one of the lowest wage replacement rates in the country and Spohnholz said the pandemic exposed some of the challenges that causes for unemployed people. “We’re not talking about going on vacation and those sort of things. We want them to be able to get by and right now, Alaska’s wage replacement value is extremely low,” she said.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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