April 17, 2020
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The legislature is in recess and lawmakers have dispersed across the state to hunker down in accordance with recent health mandates from Governor Dunleavy and Dr. Zink. I’m now back in Anchorage and glad to be home safely.
Even though I’m not physically at the office, I am now working from home like so many other Alaskans. Please know that I am checking emails frequently and my staff are available to answer calls. We are here to help you however we can in navigating this crisis.
House Finance Hears About the CARES Act
The House Finance Committee had a hearing via teleconference earlier this week to discuss allocation of funds from the federal CARES Act. We heard from Pat Pitney (Director of Legislative Finance) about the mechanics of how funds may be used and about what fund we expect to receive. We also heard from Megan Wallace (Director of Legislative Legal) about what legal authority the Governor may have in spending federal funds and what measures the legislature must take to appropriate these. There has been some uncertainty surrounding how funds from the CARES Act will be distributed and used. This confusion is due in large part to the fact that both states and a myriad of non-state entities are receiving funds because of this legislation. Here is an overview of what the State of Alaska can expect to receive:
· $1.25 billion that can be spent with broad discretion but must-
o Be used on expenses incurred between March 1, 2020 and December 30, 2020
o Be used on items not funded in the most recently approved state budget (this is the FY 20 budget since our FY 21 budget was not enacted when the CARES Act passed)
o Be used on necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency
· An estimated $6.5 million for education emergency support grants to Local Education Agencies and Institutes of Higher Learning
· An estimated $38 million for Elementary and Secondary Schools
o Noteworthy here is that these funds must awarded to local grantees and only .5% of these funds are allowed to be used for administrative expenses; the rest go directly to coronavirus response
· An estimated $10.5 million in aid for Higher Education COVID Response; 90% of this will go directly to the University of Alaska
· Eligibility for disaster reimbursement requests to be made by the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs through FEMA
· 100% federal funding of the Alaska National Guard if the guard fulfills its duties during the crisis
· Funds to supplement Alaska’s Unemployment Insurance program and to pay for additional administrative expenses due to increased claims
· Supplemental funding to cover unanticipated increases in cost for the state’s administration of federal public assistance programs
Again, these are just the funds the state will receive. In addition to this, the federal CARES ACT provides stimulus payments of $1,200 to every adult and $500 for each dependent, with eligibility based on federal tax returns. Payments begin to phase out for individuals whose incomes exceed $75,000, heads of household who make more than $112,500, and couples who file a joint return and earn more than $150,000. Individuals who earn more than $99,000 a year or who file a joint tax return with income over $198,000 will not receive any amount of the federal stimulus check.
The first payments will begin to be distributed on Wednesday, April 15th to those who paid taxes in 2019 or 2018 and who have an up-to-date direct-deposit account on file with the IRS. The IRS plans to start printing paper checks in May for Americans who do not have direct deposit information on file. People who do not pay taxes but receive Social Security payments will receive their payments in late April. If you have not received a payment within the next few weeks and believe that you should have it is recommended you contact your employer who withheld your latest taxes or visit the IRS website by clicking here.
If you want to read a more detailed explanation of the CARES Act for Alaska click here.
COVID Confusion – A Quick Fact Check
There has been a great deal of information out there about COVID-19 and all the various social and economic facets of this crisis. It can sometime be hard to follow.
I’ve been alarmed to see the rapid spread of inaccurate and sometimes potentially harmful information on social media. Among the rumors circulating is one that suggests the legislature’s declaration of extension of the public health emergency until November means that the stay home order will be in effect until that point. This is not the case. It is unknown when the stay home order will be lifted, but this order is not synonymous with the declaration of emergency.
Please make sure that you are reading accurate information from trusted sources as you try to decide how best to go about your daily life under the current circumstances.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has a “mythbuster” site devoted to dispelling many of these myths and it is worth a read if you are not sure what to believe. FactCheck.org is also a good resource to turn to if you need to. Additionally, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has a great site. With Spring here and all of us wanting to continue to safely enjoy our outdoor exercise, here is one WHO graphic that Alaskans may be able to appreciate…
The University of Alaska Prepares to Weather the Storm
UAA being part of my district, coupled with the fact that I’ve been both a student and instructor at UAA at different points in my life, makes me deeply sympathetic to the struggle that our local university and the UA system as a whole are currently facing. If you are a UAA student, whose semester was upended please know that help is on the way. I also want to congratulate the UAA graduates in the class of 2020. Even though you are graduating in an uncertain world and won’t have the pomp you deserve, know that this achievement is something to be incredibly proud of.
The UA system has its own coronavirus page setup to let the public know about steps they are taking to respond to the crisis.
COVID-19 Alaska Help Line
Alaskans who need help or connection to information about services, including related to COVID-19 impacts, can dial 2-1-1 from their phones. You can also reach out via email to Alaska211@ak.org or dial 1-800-478.2221.
This service is managed by the United Way which has expanded the call center hours from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, due to increased calls related to COVID-19.
Please stay home and stay safe.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to my office if you need any assistance.
We are all in this together.
Representative Andy Josephson
Alaska House of Representatives, District 17
Serving Midtown, University and East Anchorage Neighborhoods