Rep. Chris Tuck

Rep. Chris Tuck
Representative
Chris Tuck

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March 20, 2020

COVID-19 Update – Friday, March 20

Neighbors,

The Alaska Legislature is working quickly to respond to the hardships caused by the COVID-19 outbreak in Alaska. A core component of the response is to help workers by expanding access to unemployment benefits.

On Thursday, the Alaska House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill to help workers unemployed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak and response in Alaska. House Bill 308 has been sent to the Alaska State Senate. I will be encouraging my colleagues in the Senate to prioritize passage of this bill so the hard-working men and women of Alaska can get the help they need during this crisis.

Be safe,

 

House Bill 308: Unemployment Benefits for Covid-19

HB 308 ensures employees receive unemployment benefits whether they are furloughed, laid-off, lose work hours, or are forced to stay home to care for children or other loved ones as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

  • It’s estimated that 8% of workers in Alaska have essentially been laid-off as a result of mandatory closures.

The existing unemployment insurance system was not designed to accommodate a global pandemic.

  • HB 308 increases the weekly per-dependent benefit from $25 to $75 to relieve families who have lost childcare and income at the same time.
  • The bill waives the standard one-week waiting requirement to begin receiving Unemployment Insurance benefits.
  • The bill is designed to provide emergency relief for up to one year.

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development is anticipating an increase in the number of people filing for unemployment benefits.

  • Due to the anticipated increase in claims, the department is asking for people first to file a claim online. https://my.alaska.gov
  • Unemployment assistance is available for anyone who is “unemployed through no fault of their own.”

 

COVID-19 Update – Friday, March 20

Worldwide

  • 274,180 COVID-19 cases.  11,375 deaths.  87,991 recovered.
  • The coronavirus has been detected in 185 countries and territories.
  • The World Health Organization puts the fatality rate for the coronavirus at 3.4%. (The COVID-19 fatality rate far exceeds the fatality rate of the flu)
  • The incubation time is around 5 days.

 

United States

  • Over 19,285 cases in the U.S. with 263 deaths.
  • Over a 124% increase in U.S. cases since Tuesday, March 17.
  • The State Department issued level 4 travel advisories for every country in the world. (Level 4 is the highest alert level possible)
  • CDC data shows that 40% of hospitalized patients in the U.S. were between the ages of 20 to 54.
  • Clinical trials for a vaccine are underway.
  • The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new COVID-19 test that should increase the testing capacity across the U.S.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau is suspending field operations until April 1. (The public is encouraged to respond online at 2020Census.gov)
  • “Stay at Home” orders have been issued in California, New York, Illinois, and Connecticut.

 

Alaska

The number of COVID-19 cases in Alaska is 14.

  • 2 new cases were identified today in Ketchikan and Fairbanks.
  • 4 cases in Anchorage.
  • 6 cases in Fairbanks.
  • 3 cases in Ketchikan.
  • 1 case in Seward.

Governor Dunleavy ordered all schools closed through May 1.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz issued an emergency “hunker down” order that begins at 10 p.m. Sunday night and will last through March 31.

 

New Health Alerts

Health Alert 9.1 – Out of State Travel
To prevent the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), the State of Alaska is issuing the following strong advisory:

That all Alaskans cease non-essential out of state personal, business, and medical travel now. Alaskans currently out of state are encouraged to return home now if they had plans to return to Alaska within the next 30 days.

We strongly advise that any tourist and non-essential business travel to Alaska be suspended now. We strongly recommend that visitors to Alaska return to their home communities now.

Airlines operating interstate travel are mandated to immediately post this recommendation to their customers on their webpages and at the airports in a place that is easily seen.

Airports in Alaska are mandated to prominently post all travel recommendations.

Tour operators should immediately suspend reservations for any out of state visitors.

Businesses that depend on interstate travel should immediately assess their travel needs and only move essential personnel or travel for emergency reasons. Any travelling employee is expected to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival in Alaska.

All travelers returning from a Level 3 area are mandated to self-quarantine for 14 days as previously outlined in COVID-19 Health Mandate 004.

Any returning resident or worker is expected to self-quarantine for 14 days after returning to Alaska and monitor for illness. If you cannot work from home, you should not return to work until this period has passed, unless your work supports critical infrastructure (see Attachment A). If your work is a part of critical infrastructure, it is the expectation that every attempt will be made to comply with the 14-day quarantine or that appropriate steps are taken to protect workers, the public and spread of COVID-19.

Any visitor to Alaska is expected to self-isolate for 14 days after arriving in Alaska, monitor for illness, and follow appropriate social distancing protocols while in Alaska.

 

Health Alert 9.2 – In-State Alaska Travel
To prevent the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), the State of Alaska is issuing the following strong advisory:

That all Alaskans cease any non-essential in-state long distance personal, business, or medical travel, with specific heightened concern for travel to remote areas with limited medical resources.

We strongly recommend that non-residents cease any non-essential personal, business, or medical long-distance travel within Alaska with specific heightened concern for travel to remote areas with limited medical resources.

All air, road and maritime services operating in Alaska are mandated to post on the web and in their terminals, these travel recommendations.

All airports, ports, and bus terminals are mandated to prominently post these travel recommendations.

Any tour operator depending on clients moving long distances across Alaska should strongly consider suspending operations.

We expect any traveler who leaves a community with known cases of COVID-19 to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival to their destination community and monitor for symptoms of illness. Following that period, appropriate social distancing should be followed.

The sacrifice of all Alaskans during this public health emergency is notable. While social distancing is one arm of slowing the spread of COVID-19, minimizing travel is an equally important part of slowing the spread of disease. We are aware of the impact these health advisories have, specifically on our travel industry, already hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The state is committed to continue to work with businesses and employees impacted by the pandemic and will continue to work to mitigate these impacts. The safety and health of all Alaskans is our primary concern.

This health advisory does not apply to medical, personal, or business emergencies.

 

Preventing and Responding to the COVID-19 Outbreak in Alaska

Governor Dunleavy has ordered all restaurants, bars, breweries, cafes, and entertainment facilities closed until 5 p.m. on April 1.

  • The restriction does not apply to grocery stores, convenience stores, soup kitchens, and employee cafeterias.
  • Carry-out, drive-thru and delivery services are allowed.

The State of Alaska has closed all 507 public schools to students through May 1.

  • The move impacts 137,000 school-age children and young adults.
  • All after school activities are canceled.

The Department of Health and Social Services is closing Alaska’s 6 Pioneer Homes to all visitors, including family.

  • Each of the Pioneer Homes will develop plans to help residents maintain contact with loved ones.

The University of Alaska is ending in-person instruction.

  • Spring commencement ceremonies have been canceled. (APU also canceled commencement events)
  • Starting on March 23rd, the University of Alaska will transition to online classes.
  • The university is also extending spring break by 1 week.
  • The university is limited in-person teaching.
  • The university is canceling large campus events of 25 people or more through March 31.
  • The University of Alaska system has over 6,500 employees and over 21,000 students.
  • Alaska Pacific University has canceled all in-person classes through Friday, March 20. 

The cargo carrier Matson issued a statement noting that the company “continues to operate its Alaska service schedule without interruption.

  • Matson will maintain 2 weekly northbound departures from Tacoma to Anchorage.

The Alaska Division of Insurance is requiring health insurers to waive cost-sharing for COVID-19 testing, office visits, and trips to the emergency room.

  • The waiver applies to in-network and out-of-network providers, facilities, and laboratories.
  • The Division of Insurance is encouraging health insurers to “liberalize telehealth benefits during this period of increased infection.” 

 

Anchorage

Visit www.muni.org/covid-19 for updated information about the Municipality’s actions regarding COVID-19.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz issued an emergency “hunker down” order that begins at 10 p.m. Sunday night and will last through March 31.

All municipal employees have been ordered to work from home if they can. 

The Municipality of Anchorage is suspending charges to use the People Mover system.

  • People Mover bus capacity will be limited to 9 riders at a time to accommodate appropriate social distancing guidelines.
  • Riders are urged to only take essential trips.
  • The Downtown Transit Center lobby and customer service windows are closed to comply with the order limiting gathering to no more than 50 people.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz says utility shutoffs will be suspended for Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility and Municipal Light and Power.

  • Anchorage residents are advised to continue paying utility bills.

The Anchorage Assembly is encouraging residents to use email or the phone to provide public testimony.

  • The assembly will continue to allow in-person public testimony, but the number of people allowed in the Assembly Chambers will be limited.
  • Written public testimony can be sent to testimony@anchorageak.gov.  Comments received by 2:00 p.m. on the day of a meeting will become part of the record of the meeting.
  • Those who wish to provide testimony on the phone are asked to email contact info to testimony@anchorageak.gov.  The Municipal Clerk will then call when the assembly reaches the specified agenda item. (Public comments are limited to 3 minutes)
  • Email comments can be sent to the full assembly by emailing assemblymembers@anchorageak.gov

 

The Economy

Alaska Response

On Friday afternoon, Governor Dunleavy unveiled his proposed Alaska COVID-19 Economic Stabilization Plan.

The plan includes an immediate supplemental dividend of $1,306. ($815 million)

  • Governor Dunleavy says it’s possible to distribute the supplemental PFD in April if approved by the Alaska Legislature.

Establishment of the Alaska COVID-19 Emergency Business Loan Program.

  • The loan program will be administered by local banks.
  • The bridge loans will be guaranteed by the State of Alaska.
  • Interest rates would match those given by the Small Business Administration.

$75 million for COVID-19 emergency healthcare enhancements.

  • The money will be used to purchase critical supplies, including test kits, ventilators, and protective gear.
  • Funds will also be used to expand telehealth services and to hire additional medical personnel.

The governor said he would issue an executive order preventing evictions for at least 60 days for the 13,000 Alaskans who receive rental assistance through the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.

The governor is directing the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation to suspend all foreclosures and evictions immediately.

Loan servicers are allowed to grant forbearance to homeowners under financial hardship due to the COVID-19 response.

 

Supplemental Funding

The Alaska Legislature passed a supplemental budget bill that includes money to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.

  • However, the CBR funding vote failed. (28-10 with 30 votes needed)

House Bill 234 includes $612 million in total funding.

  • $360 million in UGF.
  • $225 million in federal funds.

The bill includes an additional $33.5 million to address the COVID-19 outbreak and response.

  • $23.5 million for COVID-19 response.
  • $10 million for the Community Assistance program. 

 

HB 234 details.

  • $8.5 million in grants to municipalities for COVID-19-related commercial passenger vessel operations.
  • $5.5 million for medical and protective equipment, including testing supplies.
  • $3.5 million for transportation to housing for medical assistance.
  • $2.5 million for housing individuals under quarantine.
  • $1.5 million for the state epidemiology lab for IT systems related to testing.
  • $1.5 million for personnel including lab, support, emergency operations, and 24-hour facility staff.
  • $500,000 for public distribution of vital health recommendations and information.
  • $142 million in state funds and $160 million in federal funds for Medicaid services, including $8.3 million to restore the Adult Preventive Dental Program.
  • $110.5 million for wildland firefighting costs incurred last summer and fall.
  • $8.6 million to restore Adult Public Assistance to ensure payments for low-income Alaskans.
  • $7.1 million for the Alaska Marine Highway System to ensure a stable schedule for the spring and summer of this year.
  • $6.7 million for the Department of Public Safety to address a shortfall within the Alaska State Troopers and Alaska Wildlife Troopers due to a lower than expected vacancy rate.
  • $6 million to help the Alaska Psychiatric Institute increase its capacity.
  • $3 million to address the severe damage caused in Anchorage, Kenai, and Mat-Su by the November 2018 earthquake.

 

Additional supplemental funding had already been approved by the Alaska Legislature and signed by the governor to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

  • The money will pay for 10 temporary positions to help respond to the coronavirus in Alaska.
  • $4 million in state funding and receipt authority for $9 million in federal funding.
  • $1.3 million for services that transport elders and Mental Health Trust Beneficiaries to healthcare institutions.

 

National

A proposal in the U.S. Senate would send a direct payment of $1,200 to Americans making under $75,000 year. (An additional $500 per child)

It’s estimated that around 18% of American workers have been laid off or had their hours reduced.

So far this week, there have been 4,046 new unemployment insurance claims in Alaska. 

  • It’s anticipated that the unemployment rate could increase by 20% in some areas of the country.
  • The U.S. Labor Department confirms that unemployment claims increased by over 30% last week.

The New York Times reports that the COVID-19 crisis is affecting 25% of those who make under $50,000 a year. 

The deadline to file U.S. income taxes has been moved to July 15.

President Trump invoked a Korean War-era law that allows the federal government to force private sector industries into service to make medical supplies.

A federal stimulus package has been signed into law to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.

  • The bill provides free COVID-19 testing for everyone who needs a test, including those without health coverage.
  • 14 days of emergency paid sick leave for tens of millions of workers at businesses that employ fewer than 500 employees.
  • Up to 12 weeks of family and medical leave (at two-thirds pay) for those affected by the virus.
  • Congressional Republicans rejected a provision to require large employers—those with over 500 employees—to provide emergency paid sick leave for their employees.
  • Strengthens unemployment insurance for those who lose their jobs.
  • Hundreds of millions of dollars for nutrition programs serving children and seniors as schools close and food banks are strained.

I’m here for you, so please keep in touch on matters important to you and your family!

Warm regards,

[signed] Chris Tuck
      Chris Tuck
      Alaska State Representative
      District 23 - Anchorage


 

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