Coronavirus economic relief provisions are set to end June 30, but impacts are hard to measure

Published: Jun. 16, 2020 at 6:51 PM AKDT
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Provisions implemented to help Alaskans struggling with the economic impacts of COVID-19 are slated to sunset on June 30. What impacts that will have are hard to measure.

In March, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 241 that implemented moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures on needy Alaskans during the pandemic. There is no firm data on how many Alaskans have made use of those provisions.

“It's hard to quantify at this point because we don't know how many people are in arrears,” said Bill Popp, the president and CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp.

Popp also sits on the Anchorage Economic Resiliency Task Force, a body that was set up by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz to help the city cope with the pandemic. The task force said there is a potential for an “eviction tsunami” after June 30.

The concern is that tenants in financial hardship will find themselves owing three months worth of rent, plus another month starting on July 1. Landlords may also be struggling.

“Landlords we are hopeful, if their circumstances allow, are going to be willing to work with tenants to negotiate payment programs,” Popp said. “Maybe some rent forgiveness, if that is within their means.”

Some members of the Legislature want to extend the moratoriums if lawmakers convene in the next two weeks.

“What you would want to do is extend the moratorium by two months,” said Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage. “And as a consequence give some relief.”

A potential downside of extending the moratoriums could be allowing debt to keep ballooning for struggling Alaskans. Begich said more federal coronavirus assistance could balance that concern.

Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, hadn't dug extensively into the data but was skeptical of extending the moratoriums. He said help could be coming from coronavirus aid already disbursed by the state. “Part of the intention of that CARES Act funding is that some of it be in place when some of these moratoriums are to come off,” Pruitt explained.

More help is what Ketchikan resident Angela Willard

. She is busy packing up her home and preparing to move out after spending two years looking after her three-year-old granddaughter Izzy.

Willard is behind on her rent and June 30 will see her leave. “I'm not going back to a homeless shelter, I hope, I am going camping because I have nowhere else to go,” she said.

Willard does not have any ill-will for her landlord and says a grandmother is slated to move into the house in July. Her landlord has forgiven the rental payments that she can’t afford to repay.

Willard receives disability benefit payments and got some other financial help during the pandemic. While isolated, she didn’t receive help for her mental illness and says she spent most of her money and maxed out her credit cards while in a manic state.

Some homeowners are also struggling.

The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. has a $3.3 billion portfolio of loans held by roughly 16,000 Alaskans. It tracks the delinquency rate for people who are behind on repayments.

Stacy Barnes, a spokesperson for AHFC, said the delinquency rate had risen to 9.17% for the month of May. During the same period last year, the rate was 3.31%.

Barnes notes that while the delinquency rate is up, interest in buying new homes is largely unchanged from last year.

Popp said that a higher delinquency rate doesn’t mean a large number of those borrowers will foreclose when the eviction moratorium is slated to end. “But at the same time, that is a concern, because that does mean there are folks out there having a tough time making their house payments, so that's one we're going to have to watch closely,” he said.

The hope for AHFC is that a Permanent Fund dividend paid on July 1 could alleviate some of those repayment problems. A lottery program is also being implemented that

for renters and homeowners who are struggling. The deadline to apply is June 26.

At the United Way, calls looking for assistance shot up 300% in April from the same period last year. Jason Grenn, a spokesperson for the United Way, said the 211 call center had its busiest day ever on June 8 with 561 calls.

The Municipality of Anchorage and United Way are partnering to

in Anchorage. “It’s different from anything that the feds can offer, we get people relief as fast as we can,” Grenn said.

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