Skagway residents who currently qualify for unemployment or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, timed out of unemployment as of Sept. 1, or who “are not working due to COVID-19 related closures or illnesses” could be eligible for the municipality’s Unemployment Assistance Program.

Passed unanimously Nov. 4, Resolution 21-32R outlines how the borough’s unemployment program works. Funding for the program was approved in August, when Ordinance 21-11 also passed unanimously.

Funded by the $2 million donation from Norwegian Cruise Lines, $450,000 was set aside for local unemployment benefits, with a focus on seasonal workers. Originally promoted by Assemblymember Reba Hylton, the final program was amended to include seasonal small business owners. Resolution 21-32-R was proposed by both Hylton and Assemblymember Deb Potter.

“I worked as a seasonal employee in this town for 16 years before taking a year-round job. I’m proud to help a sector of our community that suffered some substantial financial hardship directly related to the lack of cruise ships,” Hylton said. “Thank you Norwegian Cruise Line for your very generous gift.”

To receive funding, applicants must apply each month. Up to $112,500 will be distributed January through April of 2022. The qualifying month is the month before check distribution. 

Individuals who are not working because of COVID-19 factors, but are not on unemployment will receive no more than $1,680 per month. No disbursement will exceed $2,400 a month. The total funding for each month “will be split equally among qualified applicants.”

Recipients must pick up their checks each month in person. They are required to provide proof of unemployment assistance or proof from an employer of inability to work due to COVID-19 factors. Applicants become ineligible if they turn down a job offer during the applicable month.

Borough Manager Brad Ryan said the municiplaity estimates there will be around 100 qualified applicants based on previous labor statistics.

The unemployment program rolls out as Skagway businesses announce job openings. Skagway Brewing Company is looking for a part-time dishwasher and cooking staff. Duff’s Backcountry Outfitters recently advertised for full-time sales clerks. The positions pay between $14 to $15 per hour.

Assemblymember Deb Potter addressed the hiring issue during assembly discussion at the Nov. 4 meeting.

“I think the question has been asked, and fairly so, doesn’t unemployment deter people from seeking full-time work? And yes, there are quite a few skilled and unskilled year-round positions available right now in Skagway. 

I think another question that we could be asking at the same time is do we want to help summer seasonal people, who consider Skagway their home, stay here all winter paying rent, shopping at stores, eating at restaurants and so on. Do we want them to spend their summer savings here in Skagway or some other town during the winter?

I think a lot of us have learned, or relearned this past summer, just how critical seasonal labor is to our summer success. The intent of this unemployment assistance program is not to deter anyone from seeking work, so, please don’t do that, but to make sure that everybody is still here in the spring,” Potter said.

Natasha Kraus worked for the National Park Service until her employment ended with the summer season. Since then, she has applied for several jobs and substitute teaches at the school whenever she can.

“I don’t know how much others are making on unemployment, but my weekly amount is dismal and I cannot survive on it,” Kraus said.

In January, Skagway had the state’s highest unemployment rate at over 14%.