Dear Senator Kiehl,
My name is Thomas D. Pickerel. I’ve been a resident of Skagway since 1985 and I own a home here in Skagway.
I am the owner-operator of a small tour company called Skagway Yukon Custom Van Tours since 2017. I have worked in Skagway as a tour guide since 1992.
During the two seasons I operated (2018-2019), things went very well. I quickly rose in the ranks of tours in Skagway on the all-important Tripadvisor, which you can see if you look me up (only five-star reviews, 75 in total).
I am the only employee, I haven’t needed to hire anyone else, so it’s a one-man operation.
When the COVID pandemic began, it was especially unfortunate as I had to issue about $7,000 in refunds for tours that had already been booked and paid for. I had to borrow that money because I had already spent it getting my teeth fixed, so my tour guide smile was improved.
I applied for unemployment/PUA and I put the start date as March 15, 2021, because that’s when I had to begin issuing the refunds for the tours that never happened in 2020.
Recently, I was informed by PUA that I had to repay $5,962 since my business was determined to be “seasonal” and our cruise ship season for 2020 was supposed to run from April 23 to early October 2020.
Senator Kiehl, I did not attempt to commit fraud with PUA. Just prior to being told that I owe $5,962, I had a phone call from the PUA people, and it seemed to go fine. I explained my reasons for claiming the dates as follows:
As the owner-operator of Skagway Custom Van Tours, I actually work on the business 12 months of the year. This involves extensive communication via phone and email with potential clients, planning and developing new tours, and in the case of 2020, issuing refunds.
If I’m not available 12 months per year, my tour company would not function — that’s why I put the dates as I did.
Is there anything that you can do to help get this decision reversed? As you know, Skagway is looking at little or no business for 2021. Since my tour crosses the border into Canada, even if we get some small ships, I sincerely doubt that Canada will be opening the border, thus we are looking at around 31 months with zero income in Skagway. Which, whether we like it or not, is a cruise-ship based economy.
There are several other tour operators here in Skagway who are in the same situation, and I know several have already contacted you.
In addition to being asked to repay, I am also being denied further benefits, so I have zero income at this time, with no prospects in the foreseeable future, unfortunately.
Senator Kiehl, thanks for your hard work and dedication to Alaska. I know you’re one of the good guys, and your help in this matter would be greatly appreciated. I do not have the money to repay that amount, and I’m not sure how I will survive until May of 2022, when hopefully things might be back to normal. I don’t want to have to sell my house and leave Skagway as it’s been my home for nearly 40 years. I first came in 1981, and became a resident in 1985 when I registered to vote. I have not maintained residence in any other state since 1985.
Last year pretty much ruined my town and we are all very worried about what will be left if we ever get rolling again. Many families have already left, and it’s not a large town.
Thomas D Pickere