Dear Neighbors & Friends,
The legislature wrapped up work for this legislative session this week by coming to Juneau, passing House Bill 313 to ratify the RPLs passed by the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, and adjourning sine die. The House finished on Tuesday and the Senate finished early Wednesday morning.
Due to unusual circumstances I ended up driving to Juneau for this reconvening and I had a very exciting encounter on the drive. As I was leaving Tok around 5:30 am I came around a bend to see a moose and a wolf in a standoff. Hair was raised on the back of the spine of the moose and the wolf looked ready to attack. I was taken by the chance to see something so unexpected and rare. It was another only in Alaska moment and one I felt was worthy of sharing.
Legislators were screened upon entering the capitol and given badges to wear showing they had passed screening. It took just seconds for the screening to take place. It was the most minor of inconveniences to feel assured I am not an asymptomatic carrier that could put my colleagues at risk. One thing we must learn from this pandemic is that early testing is essential. Early in the pandemic this time only sick people were tested and we missed out on a big opportunity for prevention by not understanding the presymptomatic and asymptomatic carriers of Covid-19. Now that we know we can do better. I’m happy to do my part and will continue to follow all safety protocols to ensure we can safely transition into opening up.
Passage of HB 313 represents more than just passage of the RPLs as drafted and approved in the committee. Now that the entire legislature has come together to approve them it will allow us the opportunity to re-appropriate funds in the future, should they not all be spent as prescribed now. This is really important because there has been confusion about how funds can be used and as such we may have sent money to communities, for example, that may have trouble using them and instead could be redirected to another need like rental and mortgage relief.
The numbers sound big, but when you break them down it’s easy to see how there could be unmet need. The action took this week distributes the following funds. My comments and notes are included.
NOTE: $10 million is $1,000 to 10,000 Alaskans. With almost 95,000 Alaskans applying for unemployment benefits the need will likely exceed the funds available. Please apply as soon as possible. Please contact your Assembly members and ask them to dedicate some of the Anchorage funds to rental and mortgage relief. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: This program will go live next week. This program is FIRST COME, FIRST SERVED so please don’t delay in getting your application turned in. Many were left out of the PPP and EIDL because they were at the end of the line. $290 million sounds like a lot until you consider grants of up to $100,000 are being awarded. At $100,000 that’s only 2900 grants. Don’t miss out! Please contact your Assembly members and ask them to dedicate some of the Anchorage funds to additional small business relief. You can email them at email@example.com.
*This recent radio program on small businesses in Alaska may be of interest: https://www.alaskapublic.org/2020/05/15/small-businesses-employ-just-over-half-of-all-alaskans-how-are-they-fairing-as-they-wait-for-cares-act-funding/
NOTE: Please contact your Assembly members and ask them to dedicate some of the Anchorage funds to additional child care assistance, summer programming for kids, food programs for kids and Seniors, transportation support for Seniors and neighbors with developmental disabilities, rental and mortgage relief, and small business relief. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: We do not know how all of these funds will be used. Some for distance learning and equipment, but we must continue to monitor these funds with recent controversial decisions like the one to outsource distance learning to a Florida based company.
NOTE: These dollars are being used to continue school food programs into the summer. This will not meet the overall community need. Please contact your Assembly members and ask them to dedicate some of the Anchorage funds to additional child care assistance, summer programming for kids, food programs for kids and Seniors, transportation support for Seniors and neighbors with developmental disabilities, rental and mortgage relief, and small business relief. You can email them at email@example.com.
NOTE: The University has been hit hard by the pandemic. They have lost tens of millions on top of the significant cuts over the last two years. They did the right thing and supported students and gave refunds, but they took a significant hit.
WAS THIS THE BEST WE COULD DO?
That’s the question I keep asking myself. I expected more of the legislature in addressing this pandemic. I expected my colleagues to want to put the hard work in to craft a relief package that we knew with certainty would meet the need and help kick start our economy. Some of them did, including me, but I can’t say that is what was accomplished. I am proud to have been among the voices calling for more thoughtful action. It distresses me to see a headline like the one today, “Fear of an ‘eviction tsunami’ mounts as Anchorage economy remains stalled,” after having just pushed repeatedly for our relief package to include substantially more for rental and mortgage relief. A huge sum went to communities and some of the good can be accomplished at the community level, but what it means is delay and more layers of paperwork. We could have avoided that. I am including the table below again as a reminder of what some of us tried to push for in distributing these funds. Other distressing headlines include the need for more childcare assistance, also part of the proposal I forwarded.
What should be a concern for everyone if you break down the math and the politics is this- We know some legislators wanted to avoid a fight over the PFD. That was covered in the news. Ok. Let’s consider this. We already approved $1,000 per person. I’m not sure what their ask was, but the Senate had previously included a bonus PFD of $1,000. Adding another $1,000 to the PFD is about $671 million, based on 671,374 applicants this year.
Well, Alaska was awarded $1.5 billion in federal aid through more than one bill that passed. If you compare that to adding another $1,000 to the PFD you can see how the federal aid far exceeds the amount that could be distributed through the bonus PFD they support. We really need to think about this. We were awarded $1.5 billion or over twice that amount. When I think about legislators allowing the PFD dispute to overshadow the important work on distribution of the CARES Act funds I get very disappointed in the short sighted thinking. They let a dispute over $671 million derail the work needed to distribute $1.5 billion. It’s not right. Alaskans deserve better. And mathematically it just doesn’t make sense. I tremendous responsibility has been handed off to communities and some, like Anchorage, are prepared for receiving these funds, but many other smaller communities are not well positioned to create their own rental and mortgage relief programs, for example. I pushed as hard as I could, along with others, and I will continue to monitor the spending of the funds and make every effort for the funds to be used in ways that truly benefit Alaskans and the economy and for some of the funds to get to individual Alaskans.
UPCOMING COMMUNITY COUNCIL MEETINGS
At this time I don’t have any announcements for community council meetings.
The Airport Heights picnic, normally held the same Saturday in June as the Alaska Run for Women, has been postponed until later in the summer or fall. Keep in touch with Airport Heights happenings here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/101546559886095/
The Mountain View Community Council Clean Up did not take place as usual. Some neighbors are trying to support different ways to clean up. Visit the Facebook page to check in with neighbors for more information: https://www.facebook.com/MountainViewCommunityCouncil/
To keep in touch with Russian Jack neighbors, please visit here: https://www.facebook.com/RussianJackcommunity/
We will keep you posted on future meetings.
Until next week,
P.S. Thanks Airport Heights neighbor and hockey legend Scott Gomez for giving us some tips and laughs (and for talking about the importance of washing your hands!). Check out his Scotty’s House Instagram series: https://www.instagram.com/scottycgomez/ and the ADN article here: https://www.adn.com/sports/hockey/2020/05/21/at-scottys-house-two-time-stanley-cup-winner-gomez-will-help-you-survive-with-laughter/