Anyone who has recently lost their job in the state of Alaska should find out about the state's unemployment insurance program. Currently, an unemployed Alaskan worker may qualify for both regular state unemployment and also federal pandemic unemployment assistance, a program enacted as an emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligibility for these programs is different, and the federal program expanded eligibility, benefits and duration of benefits for UI recipients. Both programs are administered through the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOLWD) and claims are best initiated online.
Alaska Unemployment Insurance Benefits
Alaska's unemployment insurance (UI) benefits are paid for by the UI tax on employers in the state. Generally, only employees who worked for these companies are eligible for benefits when they find themselves out of work. Like other states, Alaska limits state UI eligibility to those employees who are temporarily out of work through no fault of their own. Applicants must also meet financial qualifications to have their claims accepted, including earning at least $2,500 during the state's base period to qualify for benefits.
Alaska offers two alternative base periods, each is a 12-month period of recent work history. The easiest way to calculate a base period is to determine the last five three-month calendar quarters (for example, January through March) that the employee worked before filing their claim. The regular base period is the earliest four of these calendar quarters; the alternate base period is the most recent four quarters. The alternate base period allows employees with very recent work history to qualify for UI benefits.
Alaska pays unemployment benefits on a weekly basis, and workers must certify their continued eligibility every two weeks. Eligible workers receive a weekly benefit based on their earnings during the base period – at least as much as the state minimum and not exceeding the state maximum. The state minimum is $56 a week and the maximum is $370 a week, as of publication. To these amounts is added up to three dependent’s allowances of $24 per week per dependent. The maximum duration of Alaska state unemployment benefits is 26 weeks.
Federal Benefits Programs
Generally, unemployment benefits are left to the states. That is, UI programs are determined and regulated solely by the states. However, in exceptional circumstances, the federal government steps up to supplement the state programs. When the COVID-19 pandemic essentially closed down the country in 2020, it was considered to be this type of unusual circumstance. Congress passed a financial assistance bill called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to assist workers who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The CARES Act expanded UI eligibility in all states and paid out a supplemental pandemic unemployment benefit to every worker receiving state unemployment. The initial CARES Act passed in March 2020 included a supplemental $600 benefit per week in federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits. The bill also added up to 13 weeks of supplemental unemployment benefits and extended UI eligibility to self-employed and gig workers, who are not generally covered under state UI programs. This was implemented under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
Extensions to Federal UI Programs
The federal UI supplemental benefits program, which paid an additional $600 a week to UI claimants, ended on July 31, 2020. From that date through December 26, 2020, claimants in Alaska received only the state weekly benefit amount. The program was amended in December, 2020, by the Continued Assistance Act (CAA) to provide a supplement of $300 per week benefit in addition to state-provided benefits, running from December 26, 2020, to March 14, 2021.
The supplemental payments were further extended through September 6, 2021, by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. This bill was signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021.
The CAA (extending the benefit duration by 13 weeks) was set to expire on December 31, 2020, but was extended to March 14, 2021. In addition, the extension was increased to 24 additional weeks. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 additionally increased the number of benefit weeks available to Alaska residents to a total of 70 weeks.
UI for Self-Employed and Gig Workers
The federal law that extended UI benefits to self-employed and gig employees was set to expire on December 31, 2020. The CAA legislation extended this program until March 14, 2021, and the American Rescue Plan of 2021 further extended it to September 6, 2021.
Alaska Unemployment Laws
Anyone who has recently lost work in Alaska can apply for unemployment insurance benefits from Alaska's Department of Labor and Workforce Development. This agency reviews eligibility based on legal requirements; it is charged with determining eligibility for state benefits based on state law and federal pandemic benefits based on federal law.
To apply for either state unemployment benefits or federal pandemic benefits, a worker must file an unemployment claim with the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The application is designed to elicit information used to determine whether a claimant is eligible for unemployment benefits under the applicable law.
Eligibility under Alaska state law requires that the worker:
- Is unemployed through no fault or misdeeds of their own.
- Earned total gross income of at least $2,500 over two calendar quarters of the base period.
- Is able to work, available to work and actively seeking employment.
Fault Under Alaska UI Law
Alaska's intention under the UI program is to pay insurance benefits to workers in the state who are temporarily out of work, not those merely enjoying a break. That means that eligibility can turn on the reason that a worker lost their job. For example, if an Alaska employee is fired for bad behavior, like selling illegal drugs at work or stealing money from the company, they will not be eligible for UI benefits. The rule is that the employee must be out of work due to no fault of their own.
The fact that an employee is fired doesn't necessarily mean they are disqualified from UI in Alaska. If they were fired because they lacked the skills to perform the work, for example, they may be still be eligible for UI. And workers who quit a job in Alaska remain eligible if they had good cause for quitting, which is defined as a reason that would make a worker quit even if they really wanted the job.
For example, most workers would quit if they were not paid by their employer for their services or if they were forced into unsafe working conditions. Certain personal reasons are also sufficient in Alaska, like leaving a job because of a medical condition or to take care of an ill spouse.
Federal Law Modifies Fault Rules
These strict fault rules have been relaxed and modified by the federal legislation creating pandemic UI benefits. The legislation added a variety of valid coronavirus-related reasons that a worker might leave their job that will not disqualify them for Alaska UI. These include circumstances where a worker has contracted the virus, might have been exposed to the virus or has been told by medical personnel to stay home so they are not exposed to the virus or won't expose others.
They can still get UI benefits if a family member they live with is sick with coronavirus and they are caring for them or if they have to care for a child at home because the child's school or child care center is closed due to coronavirus.
Minimum Income Requirements
Alaska imposes a minimum gross income requirement for state UI benefits. Under Alaska law, a worker will be eligible for unemployment coverage only if they earned a certain minimum amount of money ($2,500) during two consecutive quarters of a base period. As described above, the state's regular base period is the four earliest consecutive three-month calendar quarters of the five quarters completed prior to the claim being filed.
However, if a worker has not earned at least $2,500 gross income in any two calendar quarters of that base period, the state will allow them to use an alternative base period. This is the most recent four of the five completed calendar quarters before the claim was filed. For example, if a worker files for UI benefits on January 1, 2021, the five prior completed calendar quarters include the four quarters of 2020 and the final quarter of 2019. If the worker just started working during the last six months of 2020, they might benefit from the alternative base period determination.
In order to qualify for federal pandemic unemployment benefits, an Alaska worker must qualify financially for state benefits. That means that a worker who doesn't earn $2,500 in the base period for state UI purposes will be disqualified from federal benefits as well.
Job Seeker Requirements
Alaska intends its UI benefits to assist employees who are between jobs, not to pay workers who are on vacation or want some time off. Therefore, a worker is not eligible for state unemployment benefits in Alaska unless they want to work. The worker must be available to work and actively seeking work. Under state regulations, an employee is considered available for work only if they are not prevented from accepting work by other issues, like arranging transportation or making child care arrangements.
To continue to receive Alaska unemployment benefits, workers must engage in a good faith work search. They must contact potential employers every week and report back to the Department of Labor as to who was contacted, the date of contact and the details of the contact.
Pandemic Unemployment Modifications
When the pandemic hit the country and most businesses were closed down, the federal government modified the state's available-to-work requirement, including Alaska's. The modifications are for certain, COVID-related situations only.
Under the terms of the CARES Act, a worker doesn't have to look for work to get UI benefits if they have COVID-19; are caring for someone who has COVID-19; or are taking care of minor children because schools are closed as a result of COVID-19. Likewise, if a worker has been ordered by their doctor not to leave home or by government order, they can also continue to collect UI without looking for a job.
Applying for Alaska UI Benefits
While it is possible to apply for Alaska UI benefits by phone, the best and fastest filing method is to apply online. There is an online UI portal that is available to a claimant all day, every day, where they can fill out an application. Use the UI Online Help Guide for easy-to-follow instructions.
Essentially, a worker must navigate to my.alaska.gov, then click on Unemployment Insurance Benefits. It is necessary to set up an account with a password to continue filing the claim. In order to properly fill out the claim, a worker needs personal information like their Social Security number and work-related information, like the name, mailing address, location and phone number of the worker's last employer; the first and last days worked; and information about earnings from work and other income received like vacation, severance or bonus pay. The claim is effective on Sunday of the week in which it is filed.
Calculating Alaska Benefit Amount
The Alaska Department of Labor calculates a worker's weekly UI benefit using the base period. There is no easy-to-describe formula, but rather tables are used, like tax tables in income tax forms. The department does provide a benefit estimator that allows a worker to estimate their weekly benefits, which are between the minimum of $56 per week and the maximum of $370 per week. Add to this the dependent allowance of $24 per week per dependent up to three dependents, and the federal pandemic supplement of $300 a week. The more a worker earns in the base period, the higher their weekly state benefit.
In Alaska, UI benefits are available for up to 26 weeks. However, the CARES Act and other federal laws have extended the duration of benefits to 70 weeks. That provision is effective through September 6, 2021.
- Alaska Department of Labor: Unemployment Insurance Claim Assistance
- Investopedia: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act
- Investopedia: American Rescue Plan (Biden’s $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Package)
- Alaska Department of Labor: Unemployment
- Alaska Department of Labor: UI Online Help Guide
- My Alaska.gov: Website
- Alaska Department of Labor: Calculating Benefits
- Nolo: Alaska UI Benefits
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.