PUBLISHED: 6:01 PM on Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Unemployment compensation increases to $370 per week
JUNEAU - The safety net for unemployed Alaskans got significantly stronger May 28 as Gov. Sarah Palin signed Senate Bill 120 into law.

The legislation, introduced by the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee under Chair Johnny Ellis, raises the maximum weekly unemployment compensation amount from $248 to $370.

"This increase is especially needed in light of today's rapidly rising energy and food costs," noted Senator Ellis. "It was long overdue."

Despite repeated attempts to adjust the amount, unemployment insurance benefits had remained static for over a decade, driving Alaska to last place among states in the ability to replace lost wages. The new amount puts Alaska in the middle.

This year the bill passed both houses of the Legislature without a dissenting vote. Credit for the turnaround goes to the collaborative approach taken by Ellis and his committee. Soon after this Legislature convened, Ellis gathered a diverse group of stakeholders in an ultimately successful attempt to forge a consensus bill that could be supported by both labor and business. Legislators were also a part of the group, including Rep. Harry Crawford (D-Anchorage) who had championed increasing benefits in the past and who sponsored similar legislation in the House.

"After watching everyone butt heads over this issue in past years, I was willing to go along with a new approach," said Crawford. "I'm extremely gratified that we finally found a way to make this happen."

According to Ellis, the key to breaking the logjam was crafting a bill that shared the cost between workers and employers, without unduly disadvantaging either side. After considering and rejecting a number of proposals brought forth by the stakeholders group legislators settled on a way to shift significant costs away from employers while preserving workers' access to benefits.