How the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Affects Alaska Unemployment Benefits
On March 27, 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion stimulus package that pumps money into many areas of our economy that have been impacted by COVID-19, including unemployment benefits. In December of 2020, Congress passed an emergency stimulus bill that extends or renews some of these programs. Read on to learn how the CARES Act affects those who are out of work in Alaska.
More Alaska Workers Are Eligible for Benefits
In every state, employees qualify for benefits if they are temporarily out of work through no fault of their own. However, prior to the CARES Act, some categories of workers could not get benefits, including independent contractors (freelancers, gig workers, and the self-employed). The CARES Act authorizes the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, which makes these workers eligible for unemployment for the first time during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Part-time workers are eligible for benefits under this new program, even if state law does not ordinarily allow them to collect benefits. And, workers who do not have a sufficient work history to qualify for benefits under Alaska's usual eligibility rules might still qualify.
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program was set to expire on December 26, 2020. Shortly before this expiration date, Congress passed an emergency stimulus measure that extends the program until March 14, 2021. Because the President delayed signing the stimulus measure until December 27, there will be a temporary lapse in benefits under the program (because it briefly expired).
Alaska Workers Who Are Out of Work Due to COVID-19 Likely Qualify for Benefits
The CARES Act also relaxes eligibility rules about the reasons workers are unemployed to allow more workers to collect benefits. For example, you will be eligible for benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program if you are out of work for any of these reasons:
- You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms and seeking a diagnosis.
- A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- You are caring for a family or household member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- You cannot work because your child or other household member for whom you are the primary caregiver is unable to attend school or another facility that has closed due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- You are unable to go to work because of a quarantine or because you have been advised to self-quarantine by a health-care provider.
- You were scheduled to begin a job that no longer exists or that you can’t get to for reasons relating to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- You have become the breadwinner or major support for your household because the head of household died as a result of COVID-19.
- You have to quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19.
- Your workplace is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Some states have expanded their traditional unemployment programs to cover coronavirus-related job losses.
Alaska passed legislation (HB 308), retroactive to March 1, that eliminates the waiting week for benefits, so claimants who are eligible can begin collecting unemployment immediately. The new law also provides that those who are out of work to care for reasons relating to COVID-19 will not have to show that they are "able and available to work," a requirement which would otherwise apply. And, the law increases Alaska's dependent's allowance to $75 per week per child, without limit, for the duration of a state or national emergency for a COVID-19 outbreak. This law remains in effect until April, 2021.
The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development has put together a COVID-19 resource page as well as an FAQ on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 and a set of FAQs on Alaska's implementation of the CARES Act. If you have lost work due to COVID-19 but don't qualify under your state's rules, you will likely qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.