The May 4, 2020, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy livestream press briefing homepage is seen here. (Screenshot)

The May 4, 2020, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy livestream press briefing homepage is seen here. (Screenshot)

Officials discuss CARES spending

State commissioners spoke Monday on how $1.5 billion in federal funding would be spent.

State commissioners spoke Monday on how the $1.5 billion in federal funding made available through the CARES Act would be spent.

During a press conference with Gov. Mike Dunleavy, the executive director of the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation as well as the commissioners of the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development and the Department of Transportation spoke about the CARES Act funding that has been allocated to their departments by the governor and how that money will be used.

The funds are being distributed by the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, which is meeting on Wednesday to make a final decision on Dunleavy’s proposals for allocation.

Public Safety

Amanda Price, the commissioner of DPS, said her department will be responsible for the distribution of about $3.6 million to local law enforcement agencies and support services within the criminal justice system.

“As we all know our first responders continue to engage with the public and are at a high risk, second to health care workers, for coming in contact with the virus,” Price said. “We have to make sure that our rural workforce is protected. We have made a shift and dramatic change in the way we provide service and the way we respond to the requests for services that come statewide to the department of public safety.”

Of the $3.6 million, Price said that $1 million is set aside specifically for rural law enforcement agencies in the state, and another $1 million is to be used by other agencies within the criminal justice system, including the Department of Corrections, the Division of Juvenile Justice, the Alaska Court System and the Department of Law.

The remainder will be used primarily to cover overtime costs and to purchase additional protective and sanitation equipment for both state troopers and municipal law enforcement agencies.

Municipalities and small businesses

Julie Anderson, the commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, said that about $568 million has been designated specifically for direct relief to municipalities across Alaska. This money, Anderson said, is to be used for “necessary expenditures” incurred during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. The amounts to be given to each municipality will be determined by factoring in both population size and economic activity and will be distributed through the Division of Community and Regional Affairs’ Community Assistance Program.

Municipalities must first issue a letter to the state saying that they plan to abide by the guidelines set out by the U.S. Department of Treasury regarding the use of these funds, Anderson said. Upon receiving this compliance letter, the state will distribute 60% of the funds requested. After a month, the municipality will be required to submit an expenditure report for the funds, and once 80% of the initial funds have been spent, the remainder will be distributed.

“The intent of this is to ensure the funds are used as appropriate and distributed and fully accounted for,” Anderson said. “I think it’s important to note that all of us are accountable to the U.S. Treasury to ensure that the funds we receive are used as intended.”

In addition to the $568 meant for municipalities, Anderson said her department will be responsible for the distribution of about $200 million in small business relief funds. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority recently approved an emergency loan program, Anderson said, that will use these funds and distribute them to small businesses in Alaska that did not receive assistance either through the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program or the Emergency Disaster Loan Program.

Finally, $750,000 will be distributed to Alaska’s regional development organizations, which include the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District.

“I get calls every day from businesses and individuals that are struggling, and it is my intent to have all the systems in place so that the moment we have the approval to disburse these funds, we are ready to go into action,” Anderson said.

Transportation

John MacKinnon, commissioner of the Department of Transportation, said significant financial relief is on the way for Alaska’s airports and Marine Highway System.

The Federal Aviation Administration already approved $125 million for Alaska’s airports, MacKinnon said.

Of that money, $42 million went directly to regional airports that are not owned by the state.

Another $33 million was designated for the two international airports in Anchorage and Fairbanks, which operate as separate entities and are also not owned by the state.

The state owns and operates 237 rural airports, MacKinnon said, for which the remaining $49 million is allocated. These airport funds are being used primarily as a cushion for the loss of revenue in this fiscal year.

The Federal Transit Authority has designated $10 million of the current CARES Act funding to be distributed to Alaska’s 13 public transit agencies and will be used primarily to replace the salaries of workers who have been displaced or have lost hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, $10 million has been allocated to the Alaska Marine Highway System for lost wages. MacKinnon said that AHMS will be running several ferries beginning in June with increased personnel to address enhanced sanitation requirements.

No money has been designated for Alaska’s highway system, but MacKinnon said he is working to address that.

“I’m in regular contact with Washington, D.C., and I know they’re working on it,” MacKinnon said. “Alaska’s transportation infrastructure is critical to the economy and its imperative that it be maintained and improved.”

When it comes to road construction in the state, MacKinnon said they are currently planning to advertise the 2020 construction season “as scheduled.”

Housing and homelessness

Bryan Butcher, executive director for the Alaska Housing and Finance Corporation, said $10 million dollars will be going directly to AHFC as part of the CARES Act. The housing corporation operates all of Alaska’s public housing and housing voucher programs and also handles about 1/4 of the mortgages in the state, Butcher said, and those services have continued in the wake of the pandemic.

The Alaska Legislature recently passed a moratorium on rental evictions and mortgage foreclosures through June for anyone who has experienced economic hardship due to COVID-19. Butcher said people should work individually with their landlords or mortgage brokers to determine how payments can eventually be made.

Butcher said that, because of the additional funding for AHFC, he doesn’t anticipate an increase in homelessness during the pandemic, and his organization is developing a plan moving forward that will focus on homelessness prevention.

“We continue to work to make sure that people are still able to move into homes,” Butcher said. “And those are vital activities that we’ve continued even through this crisis.”

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