Gov. Mike Dunleavy held a news conference Friday to announce a COVID-19 economic plan. He called for $1,300 permanent fund dividend payments in April, as well as for a $1 billion fund, to stabilize the state’s economy.
“Immediate and far-reaching economic relief is needed right now,” he said. “Not tomorrow, not too weeks from now, but right now.”
Dunleavy called for the Legislature to immediately approve the dividend amount. It’s based on the difference between what Alaskans received in October and what they would have gotten if the state followed the formula in state law.
“This will be the quickest way to get cash in the hands of all Alaskans so they can pay their rent, buy gas, keep on with their daily lives,” he said.
Dunleavy says Congress appears to be headed toward approving its own version of direct cash payments. But he says Alaskans need money right now.
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, a Dillingham independent, says Dunleavy hadn’t communicated to him the details of the plan.
“Well, (it) largely caught us off-guard down here in Juneau,” Edgmon said. “We’ve had some productive conversations with the governor and some members of his team. But in terms of the particular announcement today, including the back pay of the 2019 PFD, we had not talked about that.”
Edgmon says the Legislature is working quickly to pass a bill to ease access to unemployment insurance benefits. And he says the Legislature will use every tool it has to assist in the COVID-19 relief.
Sitka Republican Senator Bert Stedman says senators would consider the proposal. But he expressed skepticism toward drawing down the permanent fund’s earnings to pay for the dividend, like Dunleavy has proposed.
Dunleavy also said effective immediately, he established a $1 billion fund for disaster relief. This money would expand unemployment insurance for those affected by COVID-19. State officials say the money will come from the permanent fund’s earnings reserve and may be largely reimbursed by the federal government.
“Fellow Alaskans, I want you to know your government is here to protect your health, welfare and safety,” he said. “And that includes doing everything possible in our power to stabilize our economy following this economic shutdown that was through no fault of your own.”
Dunleavy says he came to an understanding Friday morning with local lenders to provide loans to small businesses, aimed at ensuring business owners can continue to pay workers while waiting for a federal Small Business Administration loans.
He also signed an executive order protecting 13,000 Alaskans who receive rental assistance from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) from evictions for at least 60 days. AHFC also is being directed to suspend foreclosures.
Dunleavy authorized $75 million for emergency health care facilities and personal protective equipment for health care providers. He also authorized $100 million for an expected increase in state worker and public health workload, as well as funds for health safety equipment for all state workers.
“We need our workers protected and safe, and we need them to continue the functions of state government,” he said.
He says municipalities also will receive support.
Dunleavy says the state will roll out more measures, based on recommendations from the new Alaska Economic Stabilization Team.
Details on which pieces of the plan would require action by the Legislature weren’t immediately available.
This story has been updated.