May 14, 2020
In this issue:
  • Voting from Home
  • Unemployment Insurance as folks return to work
  • COVID-19 Crisis Counseling Helpline
  • 2-1-1 Resources & Referral for Alaskans Statewide
Vote by Mail
During these unprecedented times, we have to rethink the way we do so many things. A cornerstone of our democracy is free and fair elections. In these uncertain times, we need to ensure that no Alaskan has to choose between voting and their health. This is especially important because many of our polling stations are in schools and most election workers are retirees.
The safest way to ensure no Alaskan has to make the choice between voting and their health is to hold our elections by mail this year. The Municipality of Anchorage has successfully conducted elections for several years using vote-by-mail. Five other states have moved to conducting their elections by mail, including Utah and Oregon. Often, moving to by-mail elections saves money while increasing voter turnout.
Former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele, writing in The Washington Times, pointed out that while turnout does increase, it does so across partisan affiliations--with no net benefit to one political party or another.
If you would like to see Alaska move to a by mail election this year, which was explicitly authorized by Section 9 of SB 241, I encourage you to contact the Division of Elections at (907) 465-4611 or to express your support for this important way to protect Alaskans and our democracy.
Unemployment Insurance and Returning to Work During COVID-19
The hard work of public health workers and every-day Alaskans has paid off. Alaska has some of the lowest rates of COVID-19 infections in the country. This has allowed us to start reopening our economy and allow many unemployed workers to go back to work.
It is important to keep in mind that if you are collecting unemployment insurance and you can go back to a safe working environment without risking the health of yourself or those you care for, you should head back to work.
Valid reasons to not return to work
If you are unable to return to work because of a lack of child care or because of underlying health issues which make you particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, you may be eligible to continue receiving unemployment benefits.
Risks of not accepting a job offer
If you have been offered your job back, and don't have good justification for not accepting the job, you risk losing your employment benefits, having to pay back benefits received and a potential unemployment fraud charge. Further, you risk not having a job waiting for you when you want to work.
Keep in mind that there may be exceptions to this, and the Department of Labor & Workforce Development is evaluating unemployed workers' situations on a case-by-case basis for good cause determinations that an unemployed worker may not need to return to work and can still collect unemployment benefits.
Feel your workplace isn't safe?
If you don't have issues with child care or underlying health concerns, but still have concerns about going back to work I encourage you to discuss your concerns with your employer. Employers want their employees to be safe and will generally work with employees to try to find ways to ensure a safe and healthy workplace.
Partial benefits are available
If you have been offered less than full-time hours by your employer, you will still be eligible for a partial unemployment benefit. This is a change from the traditional unemployment made possible by the passage of HB 308 in March.
If you have any questions about any of this, I encourage you to reach out to the Department of Labor to discuss your situation. The department has hired hundreds of new staff in the last 6 weeks and is now able to answer phone calls again. You can email or call one of the claims centers:
  • Anchorage UI Claim Center - (907) 269-4700
  • Juneau UI Claim Center - (907) 465-5552
  • Fairbanks UI Claim Center - (907) 451-2871
  • All other areas - (888) 252-2557
More details can be found at the Department of Labor's website.
COVID-19 Crisis Counseling Hotline
This pandemic has been mentally and emotionally stressful for all of us, but especially for COVID-19 survivors and their families, first responders, relief workers, those working on the front lines in supermarkets, as well as parents and caregivers.
The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, (SAMHSA), has created a 24/7 helpline to provide crisis counseling and support for those experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters.
If you or a loved one are experiencing mental distress, call 1-800-985-5990 or text "TalkWithUs" to 66746 to connect with a crisis counselor.
No matter where you live in Alaska, 2-1-1 is your one-stop resource for connecting with a wide variety of services including emergency food and shelter, educational opportunities, alcohol and drug treatment, senior services, child care, and much more. It’s free, confidential and available in almost any language.
There are currently extended call center hours: 7am – 8pm, 7 days a week.
These are tough times. COVID-19 is putting unprecedented stress on Alaskans--both in terms of our health and because of the economic impacts of the public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Alaskans always help Alaskans. Now we need to do that more than ever.
Please let me know if there is anything my team or I can do to help you. We are working remotely but checking our voicemails and emails regularly.
We are here to help.
Stay healthy,
Phone Number: (907) 465-4940