The extended government shutdown has left thousands of Alaskans without paychecks this week. And now, hundreds of those furloughed federal workers are filing unemployment claims — some of them likely in Sitka.
State Division of Employment Director Patsy Westcott says in the month of November, before the shutdown, about 40 federal workers applied for unemployment benefits.
“In the last three weeks it’s 382,” said Westcott. “So we we’ve seen a significant hike in the number of federal workers filing for unemployment insurance benefits, and that can be directly related to the federal shutdown.”
But they can’t necessarily be linked to a community. The division was unable to break out the exact number of filers from Sitka, where there are an estimated 300 or more federal employees between the Coast Guard, Forest Service, Transportation Security Administration, Immigration and Border Security, and NMFS.
According to data from the Sitka Economic Development Association and the Alaska Department of Labor (Sitka Trends Newsletter, December 2018), federal jobs are among the highest-paying in the community, with an average gross pay of $6,600 per month — twice the private sector gross pay of $3,300 per month.
In 2018, the total gross federal payroll in Sitka for the first three months of the year was over $2.3 million. State labor statistics (p. 54 of this link) indicate that last year at this time in Sitka there were 109 federal employees who collectively earned even higher wages — an average of of $7,200 month.
With that in mind, Alaska’s maximum unemployment payout is $370 a week. About 5,500 federal employees in the state are on furlough, or are working without pay, due to the shutdown. Westcott says that even a small benefit will help the families during the shutdown.
“But in the meantime, when they’re not getting any income,” she explained. “At least they have some kind of benefit to them that’s available to them to help them put food on the table, pay the electric bill, things like that.”
If and when federal workers receive back pay for the furlough, they’ll have to reimburse the state for any unemployment benefits.
KCAW News is tracking the impact of the government shutdown on the local economy — as well as the various ways stores, businesses, and agencies are pulling together to help families who are going without pay.
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