State: More money for unemployed Alaskans coming soon

Governor, other state officials provided details of new grant funding at weekly press conference Monday
Published: Aug. 24, 2020 at 11:44 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - More unemployment insurance benefits will soon be in the hands of Alaskans following word from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that one of the state’s requests for additional grant funding has been approved.

With the announcement of more CARES Act money becoming available, the state also said Monday that it’s doing everything it can to get money distributed as soon as possible.

“We’re going to try and refine how we get that money out to individuals,” said Gov. Mike Dunleavy in a press conference Monday evening. “And we’re looking at trying to expedite how businesses can get some of the funding,”

The grant approval is a step toward relief for thousands of unemployed Alaskans struggling financially during the pandemic, and will result in a $300 weekly increase on top of regular unemployment benefits, according to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

“Alaska did submit the application and did receive approval for $62 million,” said DLWD Commissioner Dr. Tamika Ledbetter, who appeared at the press conference via phone.

Almost $20 million is already set to be paid to Alaskans through the FEMA grant under the Lost Wages Assistance Program. The money is expected to take about eight weeks to be disbursed, the state said Monday, and will be retroactive to the date when the $600 of federal unemployment benefits ended.

“That’s an upfront payment,” Ledbetter said, “and FEMA will pay the state as the state makes that payment. Six weeks to get the program up and running, and then we will make those payments back to July.”

So far, the state said, about 88,000 Alaskans have received unemployment insurance benefits since March, with state and federal funds already paying out nearly $700 million.

Regarding CARES Act funding overall, which has a Dec. 30 deadline for distribution, Dunleavy said he’s confident money can be allocated and spent to help Alaskans by the end date.

“We’re doing everything we can,” he said. “I think it can happen fairly quickly and I believe we will expend those funds as needed.”

He also said - now that a proposal has been submitted to the Legislative Budget & Audit Committee to remove restrictions on certain funding items - he has faith that “when the LB&A hears the request, they will act quickly, too.”

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink also appeared via video chat at the weekly press conference, noting that several regions have dropped from a “red” level – indicating an average daily case rate of 10 or more per 100,000 people over 14 days – to an orange level, indicating five to 10 cases per 100,000. Anchorage, Juneau and the Northwest Region remain in the red alert level, while the orange group includes areas such as Fairbanks, Kenai and the South District.

As of Monday, 40 hospitalizations related to coronavirus were on record, with at least eight of those patients on ventilators. There were 71 cases made public Monday, across a “smattering of places,” according to Zink. At least 330,503 tests have also been administered across Alaska through Aug. 23.

As for the state’s disaster declaration, Dunleavy said it would take meeting several different requirements in order for that to be removed, likely including a proven and marketable vaccine. He called that an “absolute game-changer.”

“That would be huge,” he said. “And then, just look at our numbers, and have discussions with our medical professionals. We’re optimistic; we still feel we’re managing the virus.

“There’s no book on this pandemic,” he added, “no playbook on how to deal with it. I wish there was, but we’re going to do as best we can and help Alaskans as much as we can.”

You can see the full data dashboard provided by the Department of Health and Social Services by clicking here.

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