Barring any last-minute congressional dealmaking, pandemic-related unemployment benefits and a federal eviction moratorium will expire today.
Workers who lost their jobs the week of March 29 have been eligible for an extra $600 on top of other unemployment weekly benefits since April. It was part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which Congress signed into law on March 27.
That additional $600 will be going away July 31 unless Congress renews the program, as will a ban on evictions.
Monte Hawver, the executive director of Brother Francis Shelter, said he was concerned with what might happen if the benefits expire.
“When this falls off, it’s going to be a big mess,” he said.
Hundreds of people on Kodiak have received unemployment benefits. The island has seen serious spikes in joblessness numbers since the COVID-19 pandemic struck. In March, the Alaska Department of Labor reported a not-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate of 4.2%. In April, it jumped to 10.6%.
The last time Kodiak saw unemployment numbers that high in April was 1994; 13.3% unemployment in December 2011 was the last time joblessness has been higher in any month.
Unemployment was 10.2% in May and 10.5% in June, the most recent month numbers are available. The statewide unemployment rate is 12.3%, while the U.S. rate is 11.2%.
The department published a detailed account of Alaskans who filed for unemployment benefits in May. According to the report, 896 Kodiakans applied for benefits, with the average payout being $821 from the state. Adding the $600 from the federal government, most unemployed people in Kodiak got around $1,421 a week in benefits.
The deepest losses were in the seafood processing sector, where 443 workers filed for unemployment benefits, followed by 60 health care workers and 57 food service workers.
In June, 852 Kodiakans filed for unemployment. More detailed data isn’t available yet for June.
Hawver and Major Dave Davis of the Salvation Army both said they’ve seen a decrease in demand for services in the past few months. It’s not hard to see why. The state and federal benefits for unemployed folks just about make up all the lost wages low-income workers like those in the canneries make.
“If a cannery worker makes $9 an hour, third grade math tells you they’re making more,” Hawver said of the benefits.
The nationwide eviction moratorium has helped too. Brother Francis runs a homelessness prevention program that helps families pay rent and avoid evictions.
The program helps 300 people and families by giving them about $600 a year to fill in gaps. There’s often a waitlist in June for help while the shelter waits for the fiscal year to turn over, so more funding can come in. This year, there was no waitlist.
Hawver doesn’t think it will stay that way.
“We’re looking to spend far more money on families after this. It might take four times as much to get them stabilized,” he said.
Another round of CARES funding for businesses administered by the Kodiak Economic Development Corporation might help too. The City of Kodiak has committed $600,000 and the Kodiak Island Borough has tentatively committed to contribute $1 million in CARES money to give grants to businesses affected by COVID-19.
The application period will open Aug. 3 and run to Aug. 21. John Whiddon, who sits on the Kodiak City Council and is a director of KEDC, said the 204 businesses that got grants from the last round used it mostly for lease payments, bills, insurance and operational expenses.
“It basically allowed people to stay open, which allowed them to employ people,” Whiddon said.