As the number of COVID-19 cases in Alaska and the United States continues to increase and a statewide shelter-in-place order remains in effect for Alaska, my office has received many questions and concerns from our neighbors ranging from issues about unemployment insurance benefit to what help exists for small businesses and when people should begin to see federal stimulus payments.
Alaskans who need help or connection to information about services, including related to COVID-19 impacts, can dial 2-1-1 from their phones. You can also reach out via email to [email protected]
or dial 1-800-478.2221.
This service is managed by the United Way which has expanded the call center hours from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, due to increased calls related to COVID-19.
The State of Alaska has seen an unprecedented number of individuals apply for unemployment insurance benefits in the past several weeks. As of April 4th, nearly 50,000 Alaskan workers or 15% of the States workforce have filed for unemployment. However, these claims likely underrepresent the number of unemployed people in Alaska, since they don't count self-employed Alaskans, independent contractors, or gig workers.
Federal Unemployment Benefits
The federal government also increased benefits by extending the coverage period for unemployment insurance from three to fourth months and provided an additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits. This $600 a week would be in addition to existing state and federal unemployment benefits per week for four months. Payments began being dispersed Monday, April 13, 2020. Weeks filed beginning March 29, 2020, and forward - that were eligible for UI payment - will receive retroactive payments for this additional amount.
The federal government also created a new program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for gig-economy workers such as Uber or Lyft drivers who don't normally pay into the unemployment insurance program. Benefits are the same as the state unemployment insurance program, including the $600 additional federal money, with benefits expiring on December 31, 2020. Note that this will take a few weeks to implement as this is a newly established program.
State of Alaska Unemployment Benefits
The Legislature passed House Bill 308 which waives the standard one-week waiting requirement to begin receiving unemployment insurance benefits and increases the weekly unemployment benefit from $25 to $75 per week for each dependent of a person receiving unemployment providing, some relief for families who have lost childcare and income simultaneously.
The federal CARES ACT provides stimulus payments of $1,200 to every adult and $500 for each dependent, with eligibility based on federal tax returns. If you have not filed your 2018 or 2019 tax return, file it as soon as possible to receive this stimulus check. Additionally, payments begin to phase out for individuals whose incomes exceed $75,000, heads of household who make more than $112,500, and couples who file a joint return and earn more than $150,000. Individuals who earn more than $99,000 a year or who file a joint tax return with income over $198,000 will not receive any amount of the federal stimulus check.
The first payments will begin to be distributed on Wednesday, April 15th to those who paid taxes in 2019 or 2018 and who have an up-to-date direct-deposit account on file with the IRS. The IRS plans to start printing paper checks in May for Americans who do not have direct deposit information on file. People who do not pay taxes but receive Social Security payments will receive their payments in late April. If you have not received a payment within the next few weeks and believe that you should have it is recommended you contact your employer who withheld your latest taxes or visit the IRS website by clicking HERE.
Our State's small businesses have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses, due to no fault of their own, have been forced by the state to remain closed. Alaska and the federal governments have passed new measures to help small business owners during this time of need.
The Alaska Small Business Development Center has developed a resource center for Alaska small businesses affected by COVID-19. They are offering free, on-demand workshops, and you can find the full listing of workshops online HERE.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
The Paycheck Protection Program offers $350 billion in low-interest loans to small businesses, implemented through the Small Business Administration's flagship 7(a) program and local Alaska banks and credit unions. These loans have a maximum of $10 million, are 100% federally guaranteed, and forgivable for the 8-week period after origination to the extent they are used for certain qualified expenses-including payroll, family or sick leave, health care benefit payments, retirement payments, mortgage interest, rent, utilities. If employers maintain their employees on payroll, or rehire them, by June 30, the portion of the loans used for payroll costs, interest on mortgage obligations, rent, and utilities will be forgiven.
Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)
This program is for any small business with less than 500 employees (including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and self-employed persons), private non-profit organizations, or 501(c)(19) veterans' organizations affected by COVID-19.
These loans are issued at a maximum of $2 million and can be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other bills that can't be afforded because of the disaster's impact. An eligible entity that has applied for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan can request an advance of up to $10,000 which the Small Business Administration (SBA) must distribute within 3 days of approval. This advance does not have to be
repaid, even if the borrower is denied for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan.
Senate Democrats COVID-19 Page