Dear Neighbors & Friends,
You have likely seen that the legislature wrapped up work for now and recessed late Saturday night. Due to a marathon of committee meetings and floor sessions we were able to complete the operating budget, most of the capital budget, the supplemental budget, and the Covid-19 relief package.
It was absolutely necessary to finish our work for now because we need to follow the same public health mandates that we are asking the public to follow and continuing to meet would violate those guidelines. Unfortunately, that put tremendous pressure on the legislature to work quickly and without an understanding of the full impact, both public health and economic, of Covid-19. I am particularly concerned about families making ends meet and getting through this difficult time. There was a version of the budget that included a stimulus payment and that could have made a big difference, but that was removed in the budget negotiations. The version of the budget that came to the floor after the negotiations included one fall dividend of $1,000.
I’m not sure we got it right on this one. I pushed for a split payment of this year’s dividend so that some would be distributed sooner and the remainder in the fall, but there wasn’t enough support for that proposal. Some opposed an early payment because of the dramatic hit to our state finances over the last few weeks due to Covid-19 (see the chart above). With the drop in oil prices and the reduction in the value of the Permanent Fund some felt we needed to be more cautious and went so far as to suggest no dividend this year at all. That proposal did not have support either.
It is pretty sobering to look ahead at our financial situation. Below is a table prepared by the Legislative Finance Division that shows with $40/barrel oil (remember today we are under $30), a $1,000 dividend, and $300 million Covid-19 stimulus ($150 million has already been appropriated towards this) where we will at the end of this fiscal year and at the end of the next one. The important thing to note in this table is that this uses the statutorily allowed POMV from the Permanent Fund so the only remaining funds are the Constitutional Budget Reserve. This is our checking account and it is recommended that we have $1.5 to $2 billion available. At the end of this year the CBR will drop to $654 million and by the end of FY 22 will be under $600 million. This underscores the need for a long-term fiscal plan and many of us have been working very hard on this. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 crisis has temporarily halted progress on that effort. You can see the entire Legislative Finance Division PDF here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_documents.asp?session=31&docid=61587. You can watch the presentation here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Meeting/Detail?Meeting=SFIN%202020-03-21%2009:00:00#tab4_4e.
Another influence was that as our budget negotiations were happening the federal government was passing a stimulus package so some legislators felt we should wait until the federal funds are dispersed to understand how much relief comes to Alaska and also to give more time for the us to understand the full impact. They felt it may hurt Alaska in terms of receiving federal relief if the state gave a stimulus payment. The federal stimulus package is broad and should cover all Alaskans impacted by Covid-19. See below for more information on federal relief.
We expect we will come back into session this year for more Covid-19 response and that could include a stimulus. Please keep in touch to let me know how the various programs are helping you and your family and if they need improvements or changes.
HB 205 - OPERATING BUDGET
Here are the highlights of what’s in the budget. We were able to avoid all of the budget uncertainty of last year and pass a budget that is status quo in most ways, but makes important investments in education, public safety, and critical infrastructure. The budget is funded in part by use of the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR), accessed by a super majority vote of 30 legislators. The vote this year was 30-6.
Some additional highlights:
COVID-19 response items include:
SB 241 - EXTENDING COVID 19 DISASTER EMERGENCY
Before our recess we were able to pass a large Covid-19 relief bill. I was very pleased with the final version of SB 241 that passed. This legislation includes many important provisions to protect Alaskans negatively impacted by Covid-19. SB 24 extends the public health disaster declaration until as late as November 15th and protects Alaskans from the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19.
· Halts utility shut offs, evictions, car repossessions, and foreclosures
· 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.
· Allows the DCCED to receive federal funds and enables them to provide grants to small businesses.
· Outlaws price gouging.
· Extends the PFD application period to April 30, 2020.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act passed by Congress last week will provide wage replacement including for gig workers, independent contractors, and freelancers who can’t typically qualify for unemployment benefits. It also provides cash payments to every American who pays taxes or receives Social Security, grants for small businesses and much, much more.
You can read more here: https://www.murkowski.senate.gov/press/release/major-economic-relief-package-passes-senate-. Another good summary can be found here: https://www.npr.org/2020/03/26/821457551/whats-inside-the-senate-s-2-trillion-coronavirus-aid-package
This was the third relief measure passed by Congress. The first, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed into law on March 18th and contained key provisions related to nutrition programs, emergency family and medical leave expansion, emergency unemployment stabilization, emergency paid sick leave, and more. You can read about this law here: https://www.kff.org/global-health-policy/issue-brief/the-families-first-coronavirus-response-act-summary-of-key-provisions/
Congress had previously passed the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (), which passed with near unanimous support in both the House and Senate, and was signed into law by the President on March 6, 2020. The bill provides $8.3 billion in emergency funding for federal agencies to respond to coronavirus. Of the $8.3 billion, $6.7 billion (81%) is designated for the domestic response and $1.6 billion (19%) for the international response. You can read more about this law here: https://www.kff.org/global-health-policy/issue-brief/the-u-s-response-to-coronavirus-summary-of-the-coronavirus-preparedness-and-response-supplemental-appropriations-act-2020/
COVID-19 RESOURCES - The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has created a special coronavirus webpage that includes the most up to date information for Alaska. The most up to date national information can be found on the COVID-19 webpage from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What many people are likely interested in is the Case Counts page that shows how many cases in Alaska, the US, and across the globe.
UPCOMING COMMUNITY COUNCIL MEETINGS
Community Councils have been canceled in the near term. Some are trying to find ways to meet with virtual meetings.
We will keep you posted on future meetings.
Until next week,
P.S. You’re invited to join our Virtual Go Blue Rally for child abuse prevention. Blue is the color of child abuse prevention and since we can’t rally in person we will rally online. We can‘t wait to see photos of kids and families! Join online here: https://www.facebook.com/events/530369224578671/