I wanted to provide a short follow-up to last Friday’s legislative update.
Before I do, however, I want to offer my most heartfelt appreciation to our local Emergency Operations Center (EOC) team in Kodiak. On Wednesday, I participated in a COVID-19 preparedness visit to Kodiak from Ben Stevens, chief of staff to the governor; Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer; and Dr. Alex Eastman, senior medical officer of operations for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The consensus was that Kodiak was far ahead of the curve in its preparations and is well situated to prosecute a salmon season and respond to an outbreak. There is a lot of work left to be done, but I am very encouraged that Kodiak’s preparations are on track.
The Legislative Budget and Audit (LB&A) Committee met on Monday, May 11 and approved $568.6 million in direct municipal assistance, $290 million in grants for Alaska’s small businesses, $50 million in fisheries disaster relief funding, and $51.6 million for statewide aviation and rural airports. There was some interesting discussion during this hearing, which can be accessed archived at: https://bit.ly/2WqDnsZ
Quickly recapping from last week, there was some debate during the past few weeks regarding the fastest method to legally get several critical items, such as the municipal and small business relief, out to Alaskans. Many legislators supported working through the LB&A Committee process to approve the funding, while others maintained that a full vote of the Legislature was required. Normally, I would agree with the latter perspective, but there haven’t been enough members in both bodies supportive of returning to Juneau to make it a reality.
Gridlock or lengthy debate were not options. Businesses and communities need relief now, and the only available avenue to fulfill the Legislature’s responsibility of appropriation was to work through the LB&A Committee process.
As I write this, it is Thursday morning. Unfortunately, a lawsuit was filed against the state by a Juneau resident on Wednesday seeking an injunction on the funding. A judge has yet to be assigned to the case.
I remain an advocate of returning to Juneau as necessary to continue to respond to this crisis and ratify the actions of the LB&A Committee.
I don’t have enough information to comment further at this time. This situation is developing rapidly, and I will be sure to update you as soon as I know more.
As mentioned above, $290 million was appropriated by LB&A for “grants” to Alaska’s small businesses. The governor originally proposed the $290 million as loans that must be repaid rather than grants, and I was pleased that the Legislature was able to make that change. Currently, these grants are targeted at small businesses (under 50 employees) that did not receive a PPP loan. There was a request during the LB&A Committee hearing for the Administration to take a closer look and nuance that approach as some businesses that received PPP loans were not able to utilize them fully. The grants, which will be administered by the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, should assist about 10,000 small businesses.
Court action notwithstanding, guidance on how, when and where to apply for these grants is expected to be forthcoming very soon from the administration. I will update you once I know more, but please reach out to me at Rep. Louise.Stutes@akleg.gov with any questions.
Although LB&A passed $100 million in receipt authority for fisheries disaster relief, only $50 million was appropriated to Alaska by NOAA. When last I checked in with you, the Governor’s Office, our congressional delegation and I were lobbying NOAA to appropriate this funding directly to the various states for distribution rather than having it go through the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC).
NOAA was stubborn on this issue, but we were able to get halfway there. Although the overall grant will be administered by PSMFC, each state will have the option to process its own applications if it so chooses. PSMFC will still be involved to some extent, but it is my understanding that the state can essentially take control. I am reaching out to NOAA to get a better understanding of this process and where boundaries lie in relation to Alaska’s authority. In the meantime, I met with Ben Stevens and Commissioner Vincent-Lang who both assured me that the state will take as much control as is allowable in this process.
ADF&G hasn’t begun formulating a spend plan yet, but I know Kodiak has some strong thoughts on this issue. Matt Gruening in my office is tracking this issue closely. Please reach out to him at 907-465-3271 or firstname.lastname@example.org and he will be happy to forward your concerns and suggestions to ADF&G and/or connect you with the department. This process needs to allow for a lot of upfront-stakeholder input in order to avoid the pitfalls of the 2016 pink salmon disaster relief. I will be sure to update you as soon as I have more details on the specifics and timelines.
As a reminder, please contact me if you are experiencing issues with unemployment insurance benefits or your SBA loan.
My staff and I are here as a resource for you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with your thoughts, concerns, or suggestions on any topic that is important to you and your family.