June 12, 2020
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As tumultuous times continue, I want to make sure that you remain informed and that your concerns are heard. I have really appreciated the increase in constituent and community member emails in the past week. Know that speaking up for what you believe in matters deeply.
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle.” We have a long road ahead of us and many deeply ingrained societal disparities to address in Alaska. Please continue to make your voices heard and to engage, not just with your elected officials, but with each other as well. It will take everyone working together and listening to each other to make a lasting change.
Therapeutic Courts Taskforce Kicks Off
With the current public discourse and criticisms surrounding our state’s criminal justice system, Alaska’s therapeutic courts stand out as an example of something we have done right as a state. The therapeutic model is not an “easy way out” of a felony or misdemeanor, but an alternative justice model in which a collaborative court team oversees and closely monitors participants who choose the treatment program in lieu of incarceration.
During the final weeks of session before we recessed, SCR 9, a resolution sponsored by Sen. Wielechowski to create a Therapeutic Courts Task Force passed into law. I was honored to be able to carry this legislation on the House Floor and equally honored that Speaker Edgmon selected me as the appointee from the House of Representatives to serve on this taskforce.
Next Thursday, June 18th will mark the first meeting of the newly established Taskforce on Therapeutic Courts.
It is my hope that this taskforce will work to expand existing therapeutic courts in the state and make a lasting impact on our justice system.
Childcare Centers Need Our Help
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of economic pain. Among those hit the hardest are Alaska's childcare providers. Last week, I joined many of my colleagues in sending a letter to the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) requesting additional financial help for this vital industry.
DHSS promised providers across the state three months of capacity building funding to help them stay operational and reopen safely with the rest of Alaska’s economy. Under the CARES Act allocation, they were able to apply for funding for the months of March, April and May: when this funding fell short for the month of March, the Governor and the Department of Health and Social Services used a supplemental $2.5 million to fill the need for that month’s payment.
However, the remaining months of April and May are still unfunded, with a total need of $10 million per month. DHSS informed legislators the plan was to lobby Congress for an additional $20 million to fully fund the program.
The legislature allocated $330 million in CARES Act funds to DHSS and gave the department broad authority to use these funds where they are most needed. It is disgraceful that, despite the state having the money, DHSS is choosing not to fill this funding gap. As the letter we wrote said, “The State of Alaska has the funds, the Department has the authority to allocate them, and childcare providers are a critical component of reopening Alaska’s economy safely and responsibly.”
Voting Options to Stay Safe
In a controversial decision, Alaska Lieutenant Governor Kevin Meyer has ordered primary elections in August to continue without major changes.
At physical polling locations poll workers will be issued personal protective equipment. Voters will also be provided masks and gloves if they do not bring their own.
Voters can also choose to vote absentee or use early voting opportunities instead of going to your polling place on election day.
Voting early or absentee is a good option for staying safe while exercising your rights.
If you want to request an absentee ballot by mail your application must be received (not postmarked) by the Division of Elections at least 10 days prior to the election. You can also request an absentee ballot by fax or electronic submission. If you are unable to vote in person due to age, serious illness, or disability you can also designate that a personal representative pick up a ballot for you beginning 15 days before Election Day.
Here is where you can find all of your options for Early and Absentee Voting : http://www.elections.alaska.gov/Core/AKVoteEarly.php
State COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program Announced
The Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) announced their plan for the distribution of the $10 million in CARES Act funding that they were allocated to combat homelessness.
The AHFC Alaska Housing Relief Program gives Alaskans a chance to get help to cover rent and mortgage payments. The grants of up to $1,200 will be determined by a lottery. Payments will be made directly to landlords or mortgage lenders.
AHFC anticipates giving out over 8,000 grants. The application period for these grants opens on June 15 and closes on June 26.
To be eligible for this program applicants must be earning less than 80% of the median income for their community. Applicants must also be able to show that their household income has been reduced due to COVID-19.
If you or someone you know needs housing assistance find out more at AlaskaHousingRelief.org
Though this program could have been implemented much sooner (or have been funded at a higher level) had the governor not vetoed the legislature’s allocation of state funds for this purpose in our March, I am glad that many Alaskans may finally have a chance to receive much needed help with housing costs.
This week Alaska’s number of active COVID-19 cases hit a new high and today marked the sixth death in Anchorage (twelfth statewide) from this virus.
Without an official stay at home order in place it is now up to us to contain this virus. Keep social distancing. Keep wearing masks. Keep doing what you can to keep yourself and your neighbors safe.
COVID-19 Alaska Help Line
Alaskans who need help or connection to information about services, including those 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.
As always, 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