Anchorage
61° F
Overcast
Overcast

Quarter of Alaska’s Unemployed To Lose Benefits

By Matthew F Smith, Digital Producer, msmith@ktuu.com
Published On: Dec 23 2013 07:38:05 PM AKST
Updated On: Dec 27 2013 11:30:00 PM AKST

Thousands of Alaskans will run out of unemployment benefits. 

ANCHORAGE -

More than 6,500 Alaskans receiving federal emergency unemployment will see their benefits disappear Saturday.

That amounts to roughly a quarter of Alaska’s more than 25,000 recipients of federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits. The last payable week for EUC benefits ends Saturday, Dec. 28.

Congress authorized the federally-funded program in July 2008 in the wake of the national recession. The program has been extended 11 times in the past five and a half years. In passing a federal budget this month, Congress did not extend the EUC program, effectively ending it.

“There are a lot of individuals impacted by this,” said state unemployment economist Lennon Weller. “It does end up circulating a lot of money into local economies … [and] it’s going to have a very real impact on quite a few people in our state.”

Under the EUC program, individual benefits were linked to past wages.

The average payout for recipients in Alaska was $240 a week. The maximum benefit was $370 a week, but families with children were eligible for additional money.

Last month $4.6 million went to Alaska’s unemployed through the program; in the past year, it brought more than $80 million into the state economy, comprising about 35 percent of the state’s $146 million total in unemployment benefits.

Bill Kramer, the Chief of Unemployment Insurance under the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said ending the EUC program will have no impact on the state’s own unemployment program, which covers the jobless for 26 weeks.

“The EUC program that’s ending was 100 percent funded by the federal government," Kramer said. "It’s a totally separate program.”

The closure of the program is a major cutback in unemployment options in the state. The EUC program offered up to an additional 37 weeks of unemployment benefits for Alaska’s long-term unemployed.

Coupled with the state’s 26 week program, Alaskans were eligible for up to 63 weeks—well over a year—of unemployment assistance. Ending the EUC program leaves only the state-funded 26 week program for those out of work.

Kramer on Monday referred those losing unemployment benefits to Alaska’s 22 job centers and other public assistance programs offered by the Department of Health and Social services.

“We’ve been notifying people for quite some time now, to get the message out and encourage them to utilize the Alaska Job Centers, to help people get back to work and connect workers with employers.”

Kramer said the Alaska 2-1-1 line can also help those with emergency needs for housing and food assistance.

For the long-term unemployed who have stopped looking for work—“essentially they’ve dropped out of the labor force,” economist Weller said—Kramer again suggested Alaska’s job centers.

“If someone is having that hard of a time finding work, maybe there’s something missing in their skills, or maybe they’d qualify for additional training under a state program,” Kramer said. Job centers “might be able to help give them new skills and make them more employable.”

The commissioner of DHSS, Ron Kreher, advised those in need of public assistance to visit the department’s website for description of programs and eligibility information.

Correction: A previous version of this story appeared online stating that Bill Kramer was the commissioner of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Kramer's correct title is the Chief of Unemployment Insurance under the Department of Labor and Workforce Development; the department's commissioner is Dianne Blumer. The article has been corrected to reflect the change.