Rep. Chris Tuck

Rep. Chris Tuck
Representative
Chris Tuck

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March 29, 2020

Legislative Update – Sunday, March 29

Neighbors,

I imagine that many of you are feeling a lot of fear and angst. I understand.  These are troubling times, and the answers and solutions haven't been easy.

Very early Sunday morning, after working through the night, we passed a couple of vital pieces of legislation that will help Alaskans get through the crisis caused by the COVID-19 virus.

In many ways, I am amazed at the Alaska Legislature's ability to finally come together on behalf of Alaskans during these difficult times. In other ways, I am disappointed in the strong-arm tactics used to pass a budget with a smaller dividend. We were left with a no-win situation.

It would have been a great benefit to the economy to have a $1,000 stimulus dividend this spring and another $1,000 fall dividend as proposed by the Alaska Senate.

In the urgent rush to be finished with this session, we were presented with either passing the budget along with voting to fund a $1,000 PFD from the Constitutional Budget Reserve or vote no and cut the PFD to $500 (there are single members of the Legislature that are willing to eliminate the dividend altogether). A no vote would also remove funding for the Coronavirus economic package and only sustain the budget for eight months. 

Because we didn't have the votes to do anything else, I had no choice. I could not take away another $500 when you need it the most.

Fortunately, the federal government will come to the rescue. There will be over $1 billion of federal money coming to the state with payments of $1,200 per adult, with an additional $500 per child, to carry us into the fall until we get our dividend check. At that time, I hope the Alaska State Legislature returns to Juneau to consider additional relief to Alaskans.

The budget that passed last night includes much-needed funding to protect public health and safety while the COVID-19 emergency legislation will help the people of Alaska during these trying times. The details of both bills are below, along with updated information on the COVID-19 outbreak in Alaska and across the globe. There is also detailed information about the federal stimulus bill and the help available to small businesses and those who are out of work.

In the last several days, life has changed in Alaska as we take unprecedented steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We are making tremendous sacrifices by staying home, closing businesses, and stopping many daily activities. While this is difficult and many are hurting, together, we will endure these sacrifices to keep our friends, family, and neighbors safe.

During these uncertain times of isolation, please know that I am here for you.

Please be safe,

 

Senate Bill 241: COVID-19 Emergency Legislation

The Alaska Legislature passed Senate Bill 241 late Saturday night to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak in Alaska.

The bill extends the current public health emergency to November 15 and will help prevent families and small businesses from going bankrupt.

  • Halts evictions and foreclosures for Alaskans experiencing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19.
  • Provides $10 million from the Disaster Relief Fund to assist with any expenses that arise during response efforts.
  • Allows for vote-by-mail in elections in 2020.
  • Pauses the eviction of tenants who are unable to pay their bills as a result of COVID-19.
  • Pauses foreclosures on property owners.
  • Prevents Alaskans who are struggling from having their utilities shut off.
  • Enables the Department of Community, Commerce and Economic Development to provide grants to small businesses.
  • Outlaws price gouging.
  • Extends the PFD application period to April 30, 2020.

 

The Budget Bill: House Bill 205

The Alaska Legislature passed an emergency budget bill in the overnight hours on Sunday. (23-13 in the House and 13-4 in the Senate)

  • The bill takes $1.1 billion from the CBR. The CBR vote was 30-6. (30 votes needed)
  • The bill has been sent to Gov. Dunleavy for his signature.

The budget bill totals $4.74 billion in unrestricted general funds (UGF).

$120 million in capital project funding.

House Bill 205 includes a $1,000 PFD that will paid in the fall.

The bill funds essential government services and supports the response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Alaska.

COVID-19 response items include:

  • $75 million for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services to bolster emergency medical and trauma systems.
  • $5 million to the Disaster Relief Fund to be used by the Department of Military and Veterans' Affairs to help with the public health disaster response.
  • $5 million for the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation to alleviate COVID-19-related homelessness.
  • $2.7 million for the public health services provided by the Municipality of Anchorage.

Specific Items Funded

  • $30 million in 1-time education funding over the K-12 funding formula.
  • $151 million for the Alaska State Troopers.
  • $14 million for the Village Public Safety Officer program.
  • $21 million for senior benefits.
  • $98 million for Pioneer Homes.
  • $21 million for Senior Benefits to make sure the elders who built our state live with dignity.
  • $1 billion to inflation proof the Permanent Fund.

 

Expansion of Unemployment Benefits

The Alaska Legislature unanimously passed a bill expanding unemployment benefits for Alaskans impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

  • Gov. Dunleavy signed the bill on Wednesday, March 25.
  • 7,806 Alaskans filed for unemployment benefits for the week ending on March 14. (1,120 the week before) (The weekly high during the Great Recession was 4,655)

HB 308 will help the hard-working men and women of Alaska during the COVID-19 crisis. 

  • The bill includes a retroactive effective date of March 1.
  • Waives the normal 1 week waiting period and the requirement that those affected be ready and able to work.
  • Removes the cap on the number of dependents and increases the allowance for dependents from $24 to $75 per dependent per week.

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.

  • Alaska has seen a significant increase in the number of applications for unemployment benefits.
  • Alaskans can file once a week instead of every 2 weeks.
  • Nationally, around 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week.
  • Unemployment insurance claims jumped nearly 1,500% in two weeks

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
  • Once on the homepage, click on "Unemployment Insurance Benefits."
  • For assistance you can call toll-free 1-888-252-2557. In Anchorage call (907) 269-4700. In Fairbanks call (907) 451-2871. In Juneau call (907) 465-5552.
  • Unemployment assistance is available for anyone who is "unemployed through no fault of their own."

 

Federal Stimulus Package

Congress passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package.

  • Largest stimulus package in U.S. history.

Alaska is slated to receive a minimum of $1.25 billion from the stimulus package.

$1,200 in direct payments to taxpayers who have an income of up to $75,000 a year.

  • $2,400 for a married couple making up to $150,000 a year.
  • An additional $500 per child 16 or under.
  • Those that make up to $99,000 a year can receive a partial payment.
  • A family with 2 children with an income over $218,000 would not receive any stimulus payment.
  • Total cost is $250 billion.
  • The payment should arrive within 3 weeks.

13-week extension in unemployment benefits.

  • Unemployed Alaskans would receive an additional $600 per week above the state unemployment rate for 4 months.
  • Unemployed Alaskans could receive an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits on top of the state maximum of 26 weeks.
  • The bill provides for 39 weeks of unemployment benefits for Alaskans not eligible for benefits. (Self-employed)
  • Includes furloughed employees, gig workers, and freelancers.

Other Details: (From NCSL)

Creates a $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund for state, local and tribal governments. (Alaska is estimated to get $1.2 billion)

$30 billion for an Education Stabilization Fund for states, school districts and institutions of higher education for costs related to the coronavirus.

$45 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund for the immediate needs of state, local, tribal and territorial governments to protect citizens and help them respond and recover from the overwhelming effects of COVID-19.

$1.4 billion for deployments of the National Guard.

  • This level of funding will sustain up to 20,000 members of the National Guard, under the direction of the governors of each state, for the next six months in order to support state and local response efforts.

An additional $4.3 billion, thorough the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to support federal, state and local public health agencies to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus.

Requires the Department of Homeland Security to extend the Real ID deadline for full implementation by states from October 1, 2020, to no earlier than September 30, 2021.

  • DHS subsequently announced that the new deadline would be October 1, 2021.

$25 billion for transit systems.

  • These funds would be distributed through existing formulas including the Urbanized Area Formula Grants, Formula Grants for Rural Areas, State of Good Repair Formula Grants and Growing and High-Density States Formula Grants using fiscal year 2020 apportionment formulas.

$400 million in election security grants to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus in the 2020 federal election cycle.

  • States must provide an accounting to the Election Assistance Commission of how the funds were spent within 20 days of any 2020 election.

Expands unemployment insurance from three to four months, and provides temporary unemployment compensation of $600 per week, which is in addition to and the same time as regular state and federal UI benefits.

Establishes a $500 billion lending fund for businesses, cities and states.

 

FY 20 Supplemental Budget

The Alaska Legislature passed a supplemental budget bill that includes funding to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak in Alaska. (Not yet transferred to Gov. Dunleavy)

The bill also includes funding for Medicaid and to cover firefighting expenses from last year's extreme fire season in Alaska.

House Bill 234 was supposed to include $359 million in state funding but only $246 million was actually funded.

  • The Alaska House Republicans (House Minority) rejected additional funding from the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR). (27-11 with 30 votes needed)
  • As a result, the supplemental budget is short funded by $113 million.
  • It's anticipated that Gov. Dunleavy will have to veto $113 million out of the bill.

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.

 

COVID-19 Update – Sunday, March 29

Alaska

The number of COVID-19 cases in Alaska is 114.

  • A total of 12 new cases.

On Friday, Alaska experienced the first in-state death due to COVID-19.

  • The person that passed was a 63-year-old person with underlying health conditions.
  • The death occurred at the Alaska Native Medical Center. 

3,654 COVID-19 tests have been taken in Alaska. (As of Sunday, March 29 at 5:00 p.m.)

  • The cumulative number of cases hospitalized to date: 6
  • Cumulative number of deaths to date: 2

Community Totals

  • 53 cases in Anchorage. (Including JBER)
  • 20 cases in Fairbanks.
  • 13 cases in Ketchikan.
  • 8 in North Pole.
  • 5 cases in Eagle River/Chugiak
  • 5 case in Juneau.
  • 2 cases in Palmer.
  • 2 case in Sterling.
  • 2 case in Homer.
  • 2 case in Soldotna.
  • 1 case in Seward.
  • 1 case in Girdwood.

 

Worldwide

721,584 COVID-19 cases.  33,958 deaths.  149,122 recovered.

  • The coronavirus has been detected in 199 countries and territories.
  • The State Department issued level 4 travel advisories for every country in the world. (Level 4 is the highest alert level possible)
  • 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)
  • India has been placed under a 3-week lockdown.
  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Russia has closed all its borders, including its maritime boundaries.

 

United States

  • Over 142,106 cases in the U.S. with 2,484 deaths.
  • Over 15% of all coronavirus tests in the U.S. come back positive.
  • A national emergency was declared on March 13.
  • 17 states have over 1,000 cases.
  • An infant has died from COVID-19 in Illinois.
  • The military medical ship "Comfort" is expected to arrive in New York at Pier 90 in Manhattan on Monday. (1,000 hospital beds)
  • The U.S. Census is suspending its 2020 field operations for an additional 2 weeks until April 15. (Take the census online at 2020Census.gov)

 

New COVID-19 Health Mandates

On Friday, Governor Dunleavy issued COVID-19 Health Mandate 11 calling for everyone in Alaska to remain in their place of residence and practice social distancing.

  • The order is essential a "shelter in place" order similar to the orders in place in Anchorage and other communities.

The order is due to "community spread" of the COVID-19 virus in several communities.

The order will be reevaluated by April 1.

The stated purpose of the order is "to restrict the movement of individuals within the State of Alaska in order to prevent, slow, and otherwise disrupt the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.

  • There are exemptions for essential health care services.
  • Public government services.
  • Essential business activities.

The social distancing mandate calls for people to maintain a distance of 6 feet or greater from others.

Alaskans are asked to work from home as much as possible.

  • Immediately isolate any family member who is ill.
  • Do not participate in public or private gatherings that include non-household members.
  • Outdoor activities like walking, hiking, fishing, and hunting are permitted.

If you develop COVID-19 symptoms do not leave your home except as necessary to seek or receive medical care.

Governor Dunleavy has ordered all non-essential businesses to cease all activities.

  • Violators are subject to an order to cease operations and/or a civil fine of up to $1,000 per violation.
  • There are exceptions for "minimum basic operations" to maintain inventory, ensure security, process payroll and employee benefits, or related functions.

Businesses that provide essential services or support critical infrastructure are required to take reasonable precautions to ensure the health of their service sector and employees.

  • Essential businesses include grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, and gas stations.
  • Restaurants are allowed to provide take-out, drive-thru, and delivery services.
  • Open businesses must promote social distancing, including expanding delivery and drive-through services.

People who fail to follow Alaska's COVID-19 mandates can be charged with Reckless Endangerment, which can include up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $25,000.

 

Covid-19 Health Mandate 12 prohibits all in-state travel between communities unless its in support of critical infrastructure or for critical personal needs.

The state is allowing many small communities to implement more stringent travel restrictions.

The new health mandate prohibits personal travel unless its for critical personal needs or to work a critical infrastructure job. 

  • Critical personal needs include buying, selling, or delivering groceries and home goods.
  • Obtaining fuel for vehicles or residential needs.
  • Transporting family members for out-of-home care.
  • Essential health needs.
  • Child custody exchanges.
  • Receiving essential health care.
  • Providing essential health care to a family member.
  • Obtaining other important goods.
  • Engaging in subsistence activities.

The mandate does not apply to government travel.

  • The Legislative Affairs Agency confirms that all legislators, their families and legislative staff will be allowed to travel home.

Travelers are reminded to follow practice social distancing.

  • Keep six feet away from others.
  • Avoid crowded places.
  • Limiting public gatherings to less than ten people.

 

Health Mandate 012 – Intrastate Travel prohibits those traveling for critical reasons be subject to automatic quarantine or isolation.

  • The mandate excludes air carriers and other travel-related businesses from having to verify that intrastate travelers meet the criteria for permissible travel.
  • Air carriers shall inquire if travelers are permitted to travel under this mandate and shall rely upon a traveler's assurance that they are eligible to travel.

 

The state is requiring "critical infrastructure" businesses to take reasonable care to protect their staff and operations during this pandemic.

Businesses included on the list of "Alaska's Essential Services and Critical Infrastructure" must submit a travel plan or protocol for maintaining critical infrastructure. (akcovidplans@ak-prepared.com)

Plans should outline how businesses will avoid the spread of COVID-19.

 

Travel Restrictions

All visitors to Alaska are required to self-quarantine for 14 days and monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.

  • Travelers are required to sign a form with their contact information and the address where they will self-quarantine.
  • Violators are subject to a $25,000 fine or jail time.
  • The order goes into effect on Wednesday, March 25.

 

Schools Closed

Governor Dunleavy ordered all schools closed through May 1.

  • The health mandate notes that students will receive instruction through distance delivery methods.
  • All after school activities will be suspended during this time.

 

Medical Mandates

All health care providers are ordered to postpone or cancel all elective or non-urgent procedures for 3 months.

  • All elective oral health procedures must be postponed for 1 month. (Prioritize treatment for dental emergencies)

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." 

 

University of Alaska

The University of Alaska is conducting classes remotely.

  • Spring commencement ceremonies have been canceled. (APU also canceled commencement events)
  • 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.

 

Anchorage Response

The emergency "hunker down" order has been extended through April 14.

  • 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.

Mayor Berkowitz signed an emergency order temporarily suspending enforcement of the paper bag fee of 10 cents.

The Municipality of Anchorage has moved its COVID-19 emergency operations center to the 3rd floor of the Loussac Library.

  • The move allows staff to follow social distancing guidelines.

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

 

Anchorage Municipal Election

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Municipality of Anchorage is closing all but 1 of the vote centers on Monday.

Closed vote centers.

  • Muldoon Mall
  • O'Malley's on the Green
  • MOA Election Center
  • Loussac Library (location is closed by Emergency Order through March 31), and
  • Eagle River Town Center (location is closed by Emergency Order through March 31). 

The vote center at the Anchorage City Hall will open on Monday as scheduled.

Anchorage residents are encouraged to vote at home as soon as possible.

Voters are encouraged to return ballots in one of the 18 secure drop boxes in Anchorage.

Call the voter hotline at (907) 243-8683 between 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. if you need a replacement ballot or didn't receive a ballot.

 

Alaska Court System

The Alaska Court System has responded to the COVID-19 outbreak.

All eviction hearings are halted until May 1.

  • Judges can put current eviction orders on hold.

All superior court and district court proceedings are suspended through April 3 except for priority hearings. (Exceptions for bail and other time sensitive hearings)

All trial court proceedings and civil marriage ceremonies are suspended through May 1.

The order calls for all attorneys, parties, witnesses, and other participants to appear by telephone or videoconference.

  • Parties may appear through their attorney in all civil cases.

All documents shall be filed by email.

The filing deadline in all cases are extended to May 1.

Minor offense cases are suspended through May 1. (Traffic infractions)

Child custody and domestic relations cases will only be heard on an emergency basis.

"Many custodial schedules are tied to the school year. Now that schools have been indefinitely suspended, parties should maintain the school schedule, unless they can agree on a new schedule." – Presiding Judge Statewide Administrative Order.

The order will be reviewed every 2 weeks by the Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court.

 

Small Businesses

The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering low-interest federal disaster loans.

  • The loans are available to small businesses and non-profit organizations.
  • Loans can be up to $2 million to over obligations and expenses, "which could have been met had the disaster not occurred." (Fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable, and other bills)