Alaska's CARES Act Money is one step closer to distribution

Published: May. 11, 2020 at 6:54 PM AKDT
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On April 21, the State of Alaska received $1.5 billion dollars in relief funding from the federal government, through the CARES Act -- $1.25 billion more than what was originally expected.

On March 1st, Governor Mike Dunleavy released a revised proposal for distributing those funds to communities across the state as quickly as possible. Since then, lawmakers have been divided over whether the relief funding should be pushed through by the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee - or whether to reconvene in Juneau and work on separate plans for appropriating the money.

"The money is stuck. It's not stuck in the executive, it's stuck in the legislative," Gov. Dunleavy remarked during a press conference, last week.

The same day, the governor also expressed his frustration on social media, placing the delay in assistance squarely on the shoulders of the Alaska legislature:

Once in a lifetime pandemic. Unemployment #’s not seen since the Great Depression. 70K unemployment claims since March 1...

Posted by Governor Mike Dunleavy on Friday, May 8, 2020

The committee did initially approve six of the governor's proposals -- worth around $125 million -- through the (RPL) Revised Program Legislative process. Committee member Andy Josephson, who represents Anchorage voters in District 17, says those items were link-able to the state's currently existing budgets.

"They were merely growing authority that we were already granted," Josephson said. "Here, what the governor is asking us to do is adopt new federal receipt dollars -- for categories of expenditures that we have never spoken to ... Ever."

Josephson lands on the side that would have Alaska's legislature reconvene in Juneau to begin appropriating the remaining funds. He says he doesn't object to all of the governors proposed spending, but finds the request to push it through as is "legally inappropriate."

During a meeting on Monday, the budget and audit committee quickly passed an additional 5 RPL requests, worth about 62 million dollars. That money will go towards AHFC Homeless Assistance Programs and the Department of Transportation. DOT funding would assist with rural airports, statewide aviation, maintenance and up keep of the Whittier access tunnel, and maintaining highways in the northernmost region of the state.

After hours of debate over whether the usage of federals funds in other proposed avenues is legal, the remaining expenditures - including several larger, more controversial RPL requests were approved unanimously, including:

-$568 million for direct community assistance

-$290 for small business assistance

-$100 million to assist Alaska's fisheries

Governor Dunleavy's Communications Director, Jeff Turner, told KTUU on Monday that the RPL process is the most appropriate path forward -- if the legislature had no plans to reconvene in Juneau as soon as possible.

Lawmakers faced a deadline of 45 days from the date of receiving the funds. If no action had been taken by then, the governor's office would have a constitutional right to divvy out the money on its own authority.

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