Alaska Voices: We will get through this together

  • Saturday, March 28, 2020 11:31pm
  • Opinion

We understand what a challenging and unprecedented time this is for Alaskans. The COVID-19 virus has been an evolving pandemic, spreading worldwide and severely disrupting life across America and our state. Alaskans are worried not only about their personal health and the impacts that Alaska’s health systems may face, but also the potential short-and long-term economic impacts on working families, jobs and small businesses across the state.

But in true Alaska fashion, folks in the state have already started working together to support each other — from providing bag lunches free for children in the community, to building a shelter for Iditarod mushers literally overnight. We all have a role to play in fighting this pandemic and Alaskans are stepping up. It is our honor to represent such resilient, tough and generous people.

We commend Governor Dunleavy and his administration, including Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, and mayors across the state for their proactive efforts to ensure we are doing everything possible to prevent and to limit the spread of COVID-19 in Alaska, including keeping Alaskans updated, sharing clear and accurate information.

We also applaud the governor for creating an economic stabilization team led by former Gov. Sean Parnell and former U.S Senator Mark Begich — a Republican and a Democrat. This is a strong signal to Alaskans that this is not a partisan issue. This is an Alaskan issue.

In D.C., we’ve been working around the clock — in constant contact with local, tribal and our state government — to pass bipartisan legislation that battles this pandemic on three fronts: the health and well-being of Alaskans, the vitality of different sectors of our economy, and the fiscal stability of the state of Alaska and our country.

Earlier this month, President Trump signed into law an emergency supplemental funding package, the Coronavirus Preparedness & Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, which includes a total of $8.3 billion — millions of which are already flowing to our state — to help strengthen the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak. This funding allows for necessary precautions, prevention, and treatment at the local, state, national, and international levels.

Alaskans are already beginning to feel the economic impacts, whether it is being laid off from a job, or worrying about child care as schools are closed across the state. To help address some of the more immediate needs, Congress passed and the president signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which requires COVID-19 testing to be free for Americans (even for the uninsured), secures paid sick leave as well as family and medical leave, enhances unemployment insurance, and ensures that students, seniors, and low-income households can continue to access nutrition assistance.

The third piece of legislation — the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act — is a much bolder response to the epidemic. It puts money directly into the pockets Alaskans who need it the most — up to $1,200 per person, $2,400 for married couples, and $500 for each child. It provides significant help for our small businesses — fee-free loans of up to $10 million, which will be forgiven if businesses keep employees on the payroll. It also increased unemployment benefits by $600 a week. The state of Alaska will be receiving at minimum $1.25 billion for expenditures incurred combating the epidemic. Lower 48 and Alaska tribes will be getting $10 billion, and fishermen throughout the country will be getting $300 million in direct assistance.

The bill also includes a surge of funding — $150 billion — for our health care systems. The bill provides $1.32 billion in additional funding for community health centers, and includes $11 billion to speed up the development and testing of new vaccines and treatments. Finally, it provides loans for airlines and other critical industries — money that will be paid back.

Our next crucial task will be ensuring this bill is implemented correctly and that these resources are reaching Alaskans who need them. Our team stands ready to continue working with state and community leaders and businesses to ensure that happens — and to work with Alaskans to fix problems with the legislation as they arise.

Although this is an uncertain time, we’ve faced significant challenges in the past. Nothing has dampened the indomitable spirit of Alaska and we’re confident that this pandemic will not dampen that spirit either. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for your commitment to our communities, our state and our country.

As we continue our efforts to protect our state’s public health and economic livelihood, we leave Alaskans with this bit of advice: be vigilant, be safe, and be kind to each other. The way to get through this is together.

• By Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young

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