Skagway starts paying unemployment aid covered by cruise line donation

Tourism-dependent Skagway has started using one-quarter of the $2 million gift it received last year from Norwegian Cruise Line to pay out unemployment benefits to eligible residents.

The first round of aid went out this month, totaling $112,500, the maximum monthly payout authorized by the borough assembly.

The borough received 75 applications for December’s jobless aid, paid out in January, Borough Clerk Steve Burnham Jr. said Jan. 26. The next round of applications, for January’s unemployment, are due Feb. 7.

Though the program set a maximum of $2,400 per month, per eligible resident, the first month’s payments averaged about $1,500.

The borough assembly set aside $450,000 to cover four months of assistance, directing that the payments be prorated as needed to stay within the monthly spending limit.

The cruise line last May announced it would donate $10 million to communities that had been on the company’s itineraries and suffered economically with the loss of cruise ship travelers in 2020 and 2021. The money was allocated as $2 million each for Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan and Hoonah, with $1 million each for Sitka and Seward.


While Skagway directed most of its money to businesses, the assembly also created a new unemployment assistance program to direct funds to individuals.

Before the pandemic, the town received about 1 million cruise ship passengers a year, boosting employment and sales tax revenues in the community of about 1,000 year-round residents. The intent of the municipal aid program is to keep people around until the jobs return with this summer’s tourism season.

“The municipality understands the importance of financially supporting seasonal workers affected by the financial emergency,” said the borough resolution that created the program.

Applicants must apply each month to qualify for the aid, must be a resident of Skagway, and must pick up their check in person — to avoid the possibility of non-residents or seasonal residents receiving the aid.

Applicants who are not working due to a COVID-related business closure or illness must provide proof, under the rules established by the borough.

Of the other Alaska communities to receive the Norwegian Cruise Line gift, Seward committed much of its share to help provide child care services.

The city of Ketchikan used its money to cover lost revenues in its ports fund, which has suffered without cruise ship docking fees.

The Sitka assembly reached a consensus to put the funds toward improvements to Lincoln Street, the main thoroughfare in downtown.

Hoonah lost 60% to 70% of its sales tax revenues the past two years due to the lack of cruise ship visitors, and used its $2 million gift to plug that gap in the city’s general fund budget.

Juneau’s funding went through the Juneau Community Foundation, which disbursed the funds as grants to 15 nonprofit efforts, and also to the Juneau Economic Development Council and Juneau Chamber of Commerce.