September 20, 2021
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 3rd Special Session of the 32nd Legislature has come to an end and Governor Dunleavy has signed HB 3003 into law- confirming that each eligible Alaskan will receive an $1100 PFD this October. I am thankful that the Permanent Fund Dividend amount for this year is finally determined, but the larger fiscal framework needed for the state to move forward remains unsettled. The governor has called yet another special session to start on October 1st. It remains unclear what kind of compromise legislation or constitutional amendment can gain enough support to pass both bodies and avoid the governor’s veto pen.
I’m concerned about the ability of the House to move forward constructively, right now. I believe that we, as legislators, need time to think things through and have lengthy, more relaxed discussions with each other without the constant pressure, exhaustion, and expense caused by endless special sessions. The issues at hand are complex to say the least, there isn’t just one possible solution, and more time is needed to reach any sort of consensus. In the House, each of the 40 members has different ideas about how best to address the future financial security of Alaska and protect our state’s single largest financial resource, the Permanent Fund endowment.
The other deep concern I have right now centers on the highly elevated COVID-19 numbers in our community. New case numbers in recent days have surpassed those at our previous peak last winter. What we thought was the worst point of the pandemic in November and December of 2020 now seems just to be a single crest in a series of waves. The public health concern is real, and hospitals are overwhelmed. Economic challenges of the pandemic are still real also, in Anchorage we are still seeing high rates of joblessness, more risk of homelessness and a limited childcare availability. Thankfully, there are still some resources available to Alaskans who are struggling because of the pandemic, and I’ll include a few of those in this newsletter.
An additional (and more positive thing) I’ll share in today’s newsletter is an invitation to the upcoming Anchorage Caucus Constituent event which is happening online this Wednesday.
Possible Pathways for Fiscal Reform
Like I’ve said many times- there is no magical solution that will please everyone and let us move forward. This is due to deep divisions and philosophical disagreements existing in both bodies. The current sticking point is the future of the Permanent Fund and what the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) will look like moving forward.
So, you might be asking: What solutions have been offered at this point?
There are lots of options on the table- so many in fact that it would probably take a whole newsletter to compare them. You can look at most of them here.
There are currently also many revenue bills being considered in both bodies. I will not go into these now but invite you to explore them here.
The basic questions we need to answer are:
- How big should the divided be?
- Should a dividend be prioritized above other expenditures?
- If we want a big divided, how do we not create a big deficit or overspend from the Permanent Fund?
- Should we bring in new revenues to pay for it? Or is revenue important on its own to provide some stability in annual cash flow?
- Where should a divided be funded from? Should it be tied to the Permanent Fund or to oil revenues (or both)?
- How will oil revenues and the investment market returns impact annual budgets and the divided? What happens if the market tanks or oil prices take a dive?
- Is a statutory solution enough or is a constitutional amendment needed?
While I think statutory change of the dividend formula is achievable and likely adequate, some of my peers have pointed out that only a constitutional change will ensure that the divided is not part of the annual budget process. I take their point but would be flabbergasted if we, as the legislature, passed a new law and then immediately ignored it. Also, even if both bodies passed a more modest divided formula or a revenue bill of some sort, it is unclear if the governor would sign it.
COVID-19- What Resources Are Still Out There?
The COVID-19 pandemic continues. Even though we’d all badly like it to end, it is currently at its worst point in Anchorage.
Early in the pandemic there was a big push to get relief out to communities on the federal, state, and local levels. A lot of relief and response programs were linked to emergency declarations or ran out of funds quickly. Now, people are still hurting, but there just isn’t as much media attention on what resources are still available.
If you are having trouble paying for housing because of the pandemic, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation has an additional tranche of funding available for rental relief and applications will be accepted through October 1st and may provide up to 3 months of assistance for eligible applicants who meet federal requirements. Find out more at their website: https://www.ahfc.us/
For families with school age children, the Pandemic-Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) provides additional money for families to buy food due to COVID-19 related school closures. There is no P-EBT application or form to fill out for the current school year. Eligible families will automatically be issued benefits. There will be two rounds of benefit payments (for first and second semester). Eligible families will either receive a new P-EBT card in the mail, or benefits will be loaded onto an active SNAP card, if the family participates in that program. The Alaska Food Bank has more information about this program on their website: https://foodbankofalaska.org/
If you are doing well but want to help others, the Food Bank is also actively seeking volunteers to help with food distribution.
For current Municipality of Anchorage residents who have no type of health insurance (including Medicaid, Medicare, or any other state/federal assisted/tribal medical benefits) and whose gross household income is below 300% of the federal poverty level, Anchorage Project Access might be able to help you access donated medical or dental care and enroll in a health insurance program. Find out more at their website: https://anchorageprojectaccess.org/
If you are trying to navigate getting medical care specifically for something COVID-19 related and are uninsured your provider may be able to submit a claim to the federal Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) for reimbursement of these services. Providers who participate in and are reimbursed from the HRSA COVID-19 Uninsured Program are not allowed to "balance bill" individuals who do not have health care coverage (uninsured). Find out more here: https://www.hrsa.gov/provider-relief/patient-impact/
General COVID-19 Information
Make sure that you are getting information about COVID-19 from reliable sources. Please listen to our public health experts at the state and local level.
Both the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and the Municipality of Anchorage have robust websites. They will get you the most up to date information about things like vaccine appointments, testing sites and up to date case counts. They also have very helpful FAQ sections.
For questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, contact the COVID-19 vaccine information hotline at 907-531-5100 or email AHDemail@example.com. Available 7 days a week, 8 am to 4:30 pm.
Call 2-1-1 for other COVID-19 related questions.
Anchorage Caucus Goes Digital
After a one-year hiatus, the annual Anchorage Caucus Constituent Meeting is back on and will (like so many things) be going digital this year. Anchorage Caucus is attended by lawmakers from all over Anchorage and gives you a chance to ask questions and hear from the people who represent you and your neighbors.
This event will be held using Facebook Live on Wednesday, September 22nd at 6:00 PM.
You can RSVP and find out more by following this link: https://fb.me/e/1QUcpqMRV
Though this event was originally planned to be held at East High, the decision was made to shift to the online format due to current hospitalization numbers in the community and the desire to avoid a large indoor event.
I’d like to send a big thank you to Rep. Liz Snyder, Rep. James Kaufman and their staff for making this event happen this year.
I hope this newsletter finds you healthy and happy.
Thanks for reading and please stay safe. I hope to see you online for Anchorage Caucus!
Representative Andy Josephson
Alaska House of Representatives, District 17
Serving Midtown, University and East Anchorage Neighborhoods