Gov. Mike Dunleavy

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy. (Photo by Nat Herz / Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has approved one of three options for a federal unemployment extension presented in President Donald Trump’s executive orders signed on Saturday.

The governor’s approval of the plan means $300 a week to approximately 60,000 Alaskans currently receiving unemployment benefits. Approximately 88,000 Alaskans have received benefits since March when the COVID-19 pandemic first arrived in Alaska. 

Trump’s executive order had presented Dunleavy with three options on how to move forward with unemployment: not participate in the new program, select a $400 a week bump that would require the state to pitch in $100 or approve a $300 a week bump in benefits that the federal government would authorize to be drawn from the state’s federally supported state unemployment insurance trust fund.

The state’s maximum unemployment benefits without the federal supplement would be around $370 a week, with an additional stipend for an unemployed adult caring for a child. With the newly approved federal extension, unemployed individuals will receive $670 a week. 

The federal extension is being provided by tapping into FEMA funds. 

“After reviewing in detail all of the federal unemployment aid options presented to me and my team, choosing to give $300 more per week allows us to use the state’s unemployment trust fund and helps us to best serve Alaskans who need unemployment assistance across the entire state as they weather a very difficult period in our history,” Dunleavy said in a statement Thursday.

The governor said Thursday he has instructed the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development to tap into the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund and begin the federal application to access the funds. 

Payments will be retroactive to the week of July 25 when the original federal unemployment boost expired. That week about 30 million Americans were receiving government unemployment benefits, according to data gathered by Forbes magazine

Since the beginning of March, the state’s unemployment program has paid out nearly $700 million through a mixture of federal and state funding. About $89 million of that relief went to independent business owners, according to data from the governor’s office.

Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Tamika Ledbetter noted in a statement Thursday the approval of the plan strikes a balance between providing necessary assistance to struggling Alaskans without bankrupting the state.

“This option ensures additional resources to UI claimants in the quickest manner possible without compromising the state budget,” she said. “It also keeps in place increased benefits during the time period leading to a longer term Congressional solution.”

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.