The Legislature passed a bill approving $1 billion-plus in federal aid for Alaska communities and small businesses, including nonprofits. As soon as Gov. Mike Dunleavy signs House Bill 313, which passed the House Tuesday, May 19 and is expected to pass the Senate Tuesday, May 20, state agencies will be cleared to send several hundred million dollars out to Alaska communities.
Part of the bill also authorizes $290 million for grants to small businesses and nonprofits, although the mechanics of that are still being worked out.
The legislation expands the authority of state agencies to receive federal funds, which the Legislature must approve, and also authorizes the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development to transfer $568.6 million in federal funds to Alaska communities adversely affected by the COVID-19 economic shutdown and $290 million in grants to small businesses and nonprofits that would be administered by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, the state development finance corporation.
“Everyone in the House of Representatives put their political swords down and worked together to authorize CARES Act funding to get it in the hands of Alaskans who urgently need it,” said House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (I-Dillingham). “As soon as the Senate ratifies this bill, communities, businesses, and families will see hundreds of millions of federal dollars come through to help tide them over as we all deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
House Minority Leader Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anch, agreed with the bipartisan spirit. “Each legislator has different ideas of how this money could be best spent. I’m glad we could put those differences aside and expedite this process so funding could be released into our economy and aide the many Alaskans depending on it. Alaskans and businesses are hurting,” Pruitt said.
In the state Senate, Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anch., said his only regret is that some of the CARES act money wasn’t allocated to assist families or individuals. In a briefing session with the Senate Democrats Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan was asked if the CARES act money could be used for support to individuals. Sullivan said he was not aware of any obstacle to that.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, a Democrat, said he hopes Gov. Mike Dunleavy will pay the 2020 Permanent Fund Dividend early, rather than waiting until October. State law allows payment of this year’s PFD as early as July 1st when the new state budget, which includes the Legislature’s authorization for a dividend, goes into effect.
The federal relief funds will be directed to the following initiatives:
$568.6 million to help communities and local governments impacted by COVID-19, distributed in a model that follows the precedent set by the longstanding Community Assistance Program.
$290 million for the state to provide relief to Alaska small businesses impacted by COVID-19. The money will be distributed through grants at the direction of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. DCCED estimates this funding will help 10,000 small businesses that were unable to obtain loans through the federal Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.
$100 million in economic stimulus for Alaska fisheries, which will help a wide variety of individuals and entities that rely on fishing and are affected by the substantial reduction in revenue associated with diminished opportunities to fish commercially or operate charters and guided fishing tours. The U.S. Treasury has released only $50 million of this but efforts are underway to increase this to the full amount approved.
$51.6 million is directed in the federal CARES Act to be used for rural airports and other programs managed by the Alaska Department of Transportation. Money which will go toward improvement of the statewide aviation and rural airport systems where additional needs have occurred due to COVID-19, as well as funds for the Whittier Tunnel
$45 million to help stabilize K-12 classrooms impacted by COVID-19
$42 million for child nutrition programs that serve children forced out of school by the pandemic
$29 million to address rural transportation costs, including the Alaska Marine Highway System. This money can be used for public transportation systems in small communities, such as local bus service to assist elders
$10 million for the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation to help prevent homelessness. By helping people make mortgage and rent payments, Alaskans will be less likely to become homeless. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some people experiencing homelessness are at higher risk of moderate to severe symptoms of COVID-19.
$5 million for direct financial aid grants to help University of Alaska students, and to help minimize systemic impacts of COVID-19 on the university system.
$3.6 million in critical funding for state, local, and tribal governments to provide a range of programs including law enforcement, prosecution, indigent defense, courts, crime prevention and education, corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, and more.