At the KFC/AW shop in Fairbanks, the sign reads, “Bi Weekly Stimulus Check – Apply Within.” It’s a statement about how hard it is for restaurants and other businesses to find workers these days.
On Friday, Alaska Department of Labor announced that along with at least 12 other states, it will opt out of the federal unemployment premium payments that give unemployed Alaskans another $300 a week while they do not work.
Many employers across the country have said they cannot get workers to return because the unemployment benefits are giving them hefty incentives to just stay home. The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program was approved by Congress last year to mitigate the impact on families of the economy that was depressed by Covid-19 and the policy reactions to the pandemic.
Alaska Department of Labor Commissioner Tamika Ledbetter said Alaska will end its participation in the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefit on June 12.
“As Alaska’s economy opens up, employers are posting a wide range of job opportunities and workers are needed,” Ledbetter said.
Unemployment Insurance is a short-term relief program funded through employer and employee contributions. Federal and state program expansions have added additional weeks of eligibility and supplemental funding to the normal state benefit, the department noted.
Since March 2020, the department has been at the forefront of Alaska’s response to the pandemic. More than $1.2 billion in federal and state funds have been distributed through the UI program.
Extensions of the basic state benefit will continue to Sept. 6, 2021, and will be available to both eligible UI recipients and self-employed filers.
As the economy rebounds, the department has seen a steady reduction in the number of active filers. There are currently 32,000 filers across all available programs – down from a high of approximately 65,000 last May.
“There are numerous training and employment resources available to Alaskans looking for work,” said Commissioner Ledbetter. “A great example is the Virtual Job Fair happening right now. More than 50 local employers have posted recruitments, and the response has been very positive. Employer demand for workers is outpacing job applicants. For those seeking employment, the time is now.
“Therefore, it is time for Alaskans who are able and available to go to work to do so,” Ledbetter said. “For those Alaskans still burdened by lack of childcare or transportation or other issues, I understand the challenges — this period has been like no other in our history. However, unemployment is a temporary support system. The benefits are funded through employee contributions, and the system’s sustainability is built upon a healthy economy.”