Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As I write this, it is Tuesday evening on May 12.
I wanted to provide an update on the Legislature’s recent approval of Federal COVID-19 (CARES) relief funding, Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits, as well as federal PPP and EIDL loans.
On Friday, May 1, the Legislative Budget and Audit (LB&A) Committee approved $125 million in CARES funding. This included $45 million for K-12 education, $42 million for child nutrition programs, $29 million for rural transportation costs ($10 million to AMHS), $5 million for the University of Alaska, and $3.6 million for state and local law enforcement.
The LB&A Committee met again 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 bit.ly/2WqDnsZ.
As most of you are aware, there was some debate over 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.
Under normal circumstances, I would have agreed with the latter perspective. However, these are anything but normal times. In the midst of an unprecedented crisis, Alaska was in receipt of a $1.5 billion federal lifeline, but the Legislature was not in Juneau to approve those funds. Further, although I was certainly willing, there weren’t 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.
I remain an advocate of returning to Juneau as needed to continue to respond to this crisis and officially ratify the actions of the LB&A Committee; however, I am extremely pleased that we were able to come together on this issue and get this funding to work for Alaskans.
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 thrilled 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. I am meeting with Ben Stevens tomorrow and will get as much information as I can regarding how, when, and where to apply for these grants, as well as when funding will start flowing. I should know more very soon, so 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 spending plan yet, but I know Cordova 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. I will be sure to update you as soon as I have more details on the specifics and timelines.
I know that many of you, particularly 1099 workers, are continuing to have difficulties filing for UI benefits with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Some people are waiting on overdue payments, while some are struggling to get a return call. The department hired an additional 100 staff to deal with the increased workload, but it’s clearly still experiencing significant workload issues.
The department started processing self-employed UI claims on April 20, but did not adequately inform those applicants, who had been filing for weeks already, that an additional PUA application and income verification was needed to proceed.
If you are having any difficulties contacting the department or navigating a UI claim, please reach out to my office at the contact information listed above and we will be happy to assist you.
I am also keenly aware that some businesses are continuing to experience difficulties receiving payment for PPP and EIDL loans or contacting the SBA about the status of your applications. I do know that if your EIDL application number starts with a “3”, it is likely stuck in processing. The SBA is addressing those in the order received. My staff is in daily contact with our congressional delegation and the SBA regarding ongoing issues with these programs. If you are experiencing any problems, please reach out to my office at the contact information above.
There is a lot going on right now, and, typically, there have been more questions than answers. I just want you to know that my staff and I are here for you as a resource for whatever your needs may be. Please reach out to us with any questions, concerns, or suggestions.