May 5, 2020
In this issue:
  • Federal CARES Act funds
  • Unemployment Benefits
  • A recap of last week's Labor and Commerce Hearing
  • Resources for Alaskans living with diabetes during the COVID-19 outbreak
  • Upcoming Online with Ivy Facebook live session
CARES Act Funding
In late April, the federal government sent Alaska over $1.25 billion in funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help Alaska weather the impacts of COVID-19. These funds are for small businesses, impacted Alaskans, local governments, public health efforts, and other affected sectors of the state.
The legislature is currently in recess due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Governor Dunleavy has proposed using a technical process known as Revised Program Legislative requests, or "RPLs" to get legislative approval to distribute the funding to communities and business across Alaska. RPLs are approved by the Legislative Budget and Audit committee, which I have served on for four years. They are typically used between legislative sessions to accept federal money for existing programs.
Can we use the RPL process to disburse CARES Act funds?
We have received guidance from legislative attorneys and financial analysts that while some of these RPL requests are appropriate, many of them don't meet the legal standard for that process because there is no existing program and no existing appropriation. Our attorneys have advised us that the right way to get federal funding to these areas is through an appropriations bill which would require the legislature to meet again. This could be done in just a few short days if well coordinated.
This is a once in a lifetime situation. Couldn't you make an exception and use the RPL process instead of passing an appropriations bill?

It is a longstanding constitutional principle in our country that the power of appropriation resides within the legislative branch of government. Many legislators are concerned that the RPL process is being used inappropriately, and side-stepping the legislative process.
More importantly, improper distribution of these federal funds could result in lawsuits that could stall distribution of funds or, in the worst case scenario, force local communities to payback this critical financial aid in the midst of a crisis.
However, we are working with our attorneys and colleagues to find a way to get these funds out to Alaskans as quickly as possible.
First round of CARES Act Approved
Last Friday, the Legislative Budget & Audit committee approved several of the RPLs that were clearly legal. $125 million in funds released Friday include:
  • $45 million for K-12 education,
  • $42 million for child nutrition programs,
  • $29 million for rural transportation, including the marine highway,
  • $5 million for University of Alaska;
  • $3.6 million for state and local law enforcement.
Next round of CARES Act Approvals on Wednesday
Wednesday, May 6th, the LB&A committee will meet again to consider several more RPLs. We are working carefully to ensure that we are legally appropriating CARES Act funds.
I believe that any approval of these RPLs must make it clear that the legislature is not ceding its responsibility as the appropriating branch of government, and that the approval is due to the emergency nature of the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis. The legislature does not want to set a precedent that a future governor could abuse.
You can watch the hearing online beginning at 1:00 pm. If you have any questions about what happens, let me know.
Unemployment Insurance Benefits
We had a hearing in House Labor & Commerce on April 22nd on unemployment benefits in Alaska. Many Alaskans who have applied for unemployment still have not received benefits after weeks of waiting. The Department of Labor is working as hard as they can to process as many claims as possible.
The problem is the incredible demand that continues to grow each week. Currently 70,000 Alaskans are unemployed--that's 22% of our workforce.
This is the highest percentage of unemployed Alaskans in the history of the state. By comparison, in the late 1980s, our state's previous worst recession, unemployment never got above 11.2%.
If you or someone you know is applying for unemployment benefits, be persistent but patient. The people at the Department of Labor are working to process your claims as quickly as they can. Once processed, your benefits will be paid back to your first date of eligibility.
Are you self-employed but not able to earn enough to pay your bills due to COVID-19?
Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUA) is for small business owners and self-employed individuals who are not eligible for other unemployment programs and who are currently out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides 600 per week in wage replacement.
If you think you may qualify for PUA benefits, the first step is to file a traditional UI claim at my.alaska.gov. You will receive a Monetary Determination letter that may state you are not eligible for UI benefits, but you should still file each week through myAlaska while the PUA program is being implemented into our system. Doing so will help speed up payments when the department is able to send them out. Checks will be cut after the program has been fully implemented, likely beginning May 8th, back to your first week of eligibility.
You can find out about this and other unemployment programs at this link.
Labor and Commerce Hearings
On Friday, May 1st, I chaired a House Labor and Commerce Committee hearing about the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development's response to the economic impacts of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
DCCED officials provided updates on the ways their divisions are responding to the crisis including:
  • The Division of Corporations, Business, and Professional Licensing works with the boards that license health care workers, barbers and hair dressers, and many other professions that are working to reopen their businesses in the state. They've been having weekly meetings of health care-related board chairs to share best practices and trouble-shoot issues that are arising for health care workers.
  • The Division of Insurance has been working to implement my telehealth bill, House Bill 29, which expanded access to insurance coverage for telehealth in Alaska. Additionally, they loosened other telehealth regulations to allow consumers and providers to take full advantage of this health care delivery method.
It was a useful hearing. If you like, you can view the presentation here.
If you have diabetes and are struggling to pay for insulin, the American Diabetes Association has online resources to help.
If you have questions or need additional support during these challenging times, you can reach them at their call center at 1-800-DIABETES (800-342-2383).
Alaskans living with diabetes are at a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. You can access helpful resources, understand your risk, know your legal rights, and connect with the community at diabetes.org/coronavirus.
You're welcome to join me this Saturday morning for a Facebook Live session where I will provide a quick update on where things stand with the legislature, recent committee hearings, and federal CARES Act funding. Type your questions in the comments and I will be happy to answer them. I look forward to seeing you on Saturday!
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
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