March 31, 2020
Legislative & COVID-19 Update – Tuesday, March 31
On Monday, the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, which I chair, met to review the annual audit of the state government in Alaska. At the conclusion of the meeting, we released the audit and its findings to the public. (Click the image below to read and download the FY 19 audit)
The results of the audit are disappointing. I was especially troubled to learn that the auditors that work for the Division of Legislative Audit were denied access to files and other information by the Department of Revenue related to oil and gas production taxes. That information is needed to verify the use of tax credits. As a result of this lack of cooperation, the auditors were unable to determine whether adjustments to tax amounts were necessary.
Further, the audit found instances where the Department of Revenue did not timely transfer oil tax revenue into the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR), which resulted in lost revenue, reaching into the millions of dollars. Also, over $69 million in FERC-related revenues that should have been deposited into the CBR was instead used to offset tax credits.
The audit of the FY 2019 budget found other discrepancies, including in the Division of Health Care Services, where state and federal regulations to prevent unallowable costs, unallowable activities, and fraud were intentionally disregarded.
In the end, our state auditors documented several instances of noncompliance and material deficiencies in our state government. This should trouble us all. Now more than ever, we need our government to be open and transparent while making wise use of our fiscal resources.
Please be safe,
Covid-19 Update – March 31
The number of COVID-19 cases in Alaska is 133.
- A total of 14 new cases as of today at 5 p.m.
- 2 new cases in Anchorage.
- 2 new cases in Eagle River.
- 5 new cases in Fairbanks.
- 4 new cases in Juneau.
- 1 new case in Kenai.
Alaska recorded its 3rd COVID-19 death on Saturday.
- A 73-year-old man died at an Anchorage hospital.
4,603 COVID-19 tests have been taken in Alaska. (As of Tuesday, March 31)
- The cumulative number of cases hospitalized to date: 9
- Cumulative number of deaths to date: 3
The deadline to file for a 2020 PFD has been pushed back to April 30.
- 57 cases in Anchorage. (Including JBER)
- 7 cases in Eagle River/Chugiak.
- 1 case in Girdwood.
- 2 cases in Homer.
- 1 case in Kenai.
- 1 case in Seward.
- 2 cases in Soldotna.
- 2 cases in Sterling.
- 27 cases in Fairbanks.
- 8 cases in North Pole.
- 3 cases in Palmer.
- 9 cases in Juneau.
- 13 cases in Ketchikan.
857,487 COVID-19 cases. 42,107 deaths. 178,034 recovered.
- The coronavirus has been detected in 202 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)
- Over 188,172 cases in the U.S. with 3,867 deaths.
- Cases are up 15.6% from Sunday.
- Deaths are up 27.6% from Sunday.
- Nearly 3 out of every 4 Americans are under some form of “shelter in place” order.
- A national emergency was declared on March 13.
- The federal government’s guidelines for social distancing are extended until April 30.
- 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)
Senate Bill 241: COVID-19 Emergency Legislation
The Alaska Legislature passed Senate Bill 241 on March 28 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.
- Grants Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink the authority to issue standing orders for healthcare providers related to COVID-19.
- The bill guarantees that first responders, nurses, and doctors will receive workers compensation if diagnosed with 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.
- Protects Alaskans experiencing COVID-19-related financial hardship from defaulting on state loans and having their assets seized.
- Encourages the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development to purchase Alaska seafood for distribution to foods banks, soup kitchens and Alaska Native organizations.
The Budget Bill: House Bill 205
The Alaska Legislature passed an emergency budget bill in the overnight hours on Sunday, March 29. (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 bill funds essential government services and supports the response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Alaska.
The budget bill totals $4.74 billion in unrestricted general funds (UGF).
- $4.5 billion in operating and capital spending.
- $680 million for 2020 PFD of $1,000.
- The FY 20 budget was $4.49 billion UGF.
- The FY 19 budget was $4.64 billion UGF.
$120 million in capital project funding.
Open-ended federal receipt authority to address the public health emergency.
House Bill 205 includes a $1,000 PFD that will be paid in October.
- Governor Dunleavy is calling for a full statutory dividend for 2020. Estimated at $3,100 per eligible Alaskan. ($2 billion)
- Governor Dunleavy is also calling for a supplemental PFD of $1,306 per eligible Alaskan. ($815 million)
The bill funds essential government services and supports the response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Alaska.
The budget includes a 5.25% POMV draw. ($3.1 billion) (5% in FY 22)
COVID-19 response items include: $88 million
- $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.
- Fully funds the K-12 funding formula at $1.3 billion.
- The BSA is fully funded at $5,930 per student.
- $4.3 million for Pre-K.
- $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.
- Additional funding for API.
- Full funding for Village Safe Water projects.
- Full funding for AHFC grant programs.
- $21 million for Senior Benefits to make sure the elders who built our state live with dignity.
- $1 billion transfer from the ERA to the corpus of the Permanent Fund to inflation proof the Permanent Fund.
Alaska Marine Highway System:
The approved budget for the Alaska Marine Highway System totals $122 million.
- 42% of the budget is receipt authority for ticket sales.
- $66.7 million in state funding.
- Increase of $20 million from the $46 million in state funding in the FY 20 budget.
- $19 million to repair the M/V Aurora and to make needed additions to the M/V Hubbard and M/V Tazlina to extend their ranges.
$55 million in oil and gas tax credit payments were removed from the budget.
The University of Alaska was cut by $12.5 million. ($12.5 million was added back)
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.
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.
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 it’s 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 it’s 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. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Plans should outline how businesses will avoid the spread of COVID-19.
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.
The Alaska Airlines Center will be used as an overflow shelter for COVID-19 patients if the hospitals get overwhelmed. (150 beds)
The Ben Boeke Ice Arenas has been turned into a temporary shelter for the homeless. (The shelter is being overseen by Bean’s Café)
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
Election Day in Anchorage is Tuesday, April 7.
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Municipality of Anchorage has closed all but 1 of the vote centers.
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 is open.
- Monday-Friday, March 30–April 6, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
- Tuesday, April 7, 7 a.m.–8 p.m.
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.
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)
- The interest rate for small businesses is 3.75%. The interest rate for non-profit organizations is 2.75%.
- The loan term can be up to 30 years.
- The deadline to apply is December 21, 2020.
Apply online at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela or call 1-800-659-2955.
Credit Rating Downgraded
On Friday, Fitch Ratings placed Alaska’s credit rating on a negative watch.
The negative watch “reflects the severe financial and economic stress the state is expected to undergo as a result of the recent plunge in crude oil prices, compounded by the negative impact the coronavirus pandemic is expected have on the state's important fishing and tourism industries.”
Fitch Ratings notes that the state relies on revenue from Permanent Fund earnings.
- The Permanent Fund was valued at $66.3 billion in July of last year.
- As of March 23, the value of the Permanent Fund drooped to $56.5 billion. (A decline of almost 15%)
Last September, Fitch Ratings lowered Alaska’s credit ratings. The general obligations bond rating was lowered to AA-. (That’s a low rating compared to other states)
As senior director gave an interview on Friday noting that Fitch Ratings is “signaling that if the state continues along the path we foresee, we could see the ratings go down.”
Prevent the Spread of COVID-19
Wash hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes and clean frequently touched surfaces.
Keep at least six feet away from others.
Stay home and work from home as much as possible.
If you are sick with a respiratory infection, even with mild symptoms, isolate yourself from others and call ahead if you need medical attention.
The best way to prevent contracting this illness is by avoiding exposure to it:
- Practice social distancing if possible – only leave the house for necessities and avoid gatherings of ten people or more.
- Stay at least six feet away from others and avoid shaking hands.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
If you are sick:
- Stay home as much as possible.
- Sneeze and/or cough into your elbow or a tissue.
- Wear a face mask when around other people or going to a medical office.
- Coronavirus symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
- If you have symptoms and seek testing, contact your physician or healthcare provider.
The CDC and Apple have launched a new website that includes a COVID-19 screening tool and other resources. (An app is available)
CDC COVID-19 website. coronavirus.alaska.gov
Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (JHU)
Politico’s COVID-19 HQ
COVID-19 Resources for State Leaders
Google COVID-19 Information & Resources
COVID-19 Alaska Economic Stabilization Team
NCSL COVID-19 Page
New York Times free COVID-19 coverage
Medium Coronavirus Blog
Mat-Su Frontiersman Coronavirus Coverage
I’m here for you, so please keep in touch on matters important to you and your family!
Alaska State Representative
District 23 - Anchorage