Dunleavy wants the Legislature to quickly approve his plans for federal COVID-19 aid

Update — Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO and Alaska Public Media

A legislative committee approved spending $125 million in federal CARES Act money on Friday. 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy is calling on the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee to approve roughly $1 billion more. But the Legislature’s nonpartisan legal and budget advisers have said the entire Legislature may need to reconvene to do that. 

Dunleavy said at a news briefing on Friday that if the Legislature decides to reconvene, it will slow down how quickly Alaskans receive the money. 

“The chances of this money getting out quickly to assist municipalities and businesses and individuals — that becomes a problem, because the process takes a long time,” Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy said the committee should be able to handle it. 

Committee Chair Rep. Chris Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, noted that the state constitution gives the Legislature the power to spend money. A law allows the committee to agree to federal spending for items that were included in the budget. 

But he said there are no items in the budget that would allow the committee to accept the bulk of the CARES Act money. 

“We will send this money out as fast as we can, but we’re going to do it lawfully,” Tuck said. “We want to make sure that we’re not going to be getting ourselves into trouble or subject to a lawsuit, because that slows the money down a lot.”

The Legislature last met on March 29. But it recessed rather than adjourned, and could reconvene at any time before the constitutional deadline to end the session on May 20. 

Tuck said the Legislature could handle all of the remaining business over three or four days. But he acknowledged it would be a logistical challenge to reconvene in Juneau while maintaining social distancing. 

The committee voted to approve six of 11 separate requests made by Dunleavy’s administration. They include: 

  • $45 million for public education; 
  • $42 million for school lunches and other child nutrition programs;  
  • $29 million for rural transportation costs, including $10 million the Alaska Marine Highway System; 
  • $5 million for the University of Alaska;
  • $3.6 million for the law enforcement; and 
  • $420,000 for grants to arts organizations. 

Tuck said the committee could still approve two requests for transportation funding, including funds for airports. But he said it lacks authority to accept $562.5 million for communities; $300 million for small business relief; and $100 million for fisheries. 

Original story — Rashah McChesney, KTOO

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s latest COVID-19 press conference is scheduled for 5 p.m. today.

He’s expected to give an update on the distribution on how the state will allocate $1.25 billion in CARES Act funding.   When that funding was initially set aside for the state Dunleavy laid out a plan that would have backfilled some funds from his vetoes to the state’s budget

However, there is some uncertainty about how that money can be spent and whether it can be used to make up for revenue lost as a result of the pandemic.  On Friday, Dunleavy’s office sent a revised plan for how to spend that funding to the legislature. It includes:

  • about $569 million, to individual communities
  • $290 million into programs to support small businesses
  • $10 million in homelessness assistance
  • $50 million in non-profit support
  • $331 million for health-related COVID-19 costs

During today’s press conference, Dunleavy will be joined by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink to discuss the latest cases of COVID-19 in Alaska.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks about the state's COVID-19 response from the Atwood Building in Anchorage on March 20, 2020.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks about the state’s COVID-19 response from the Atwood Building in Anchorage on March 20, 2020. Also pictured: Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink, and an unidentified sign language interpreter. (Creative Commons photo courtesy Alaska Governor’s Office)

The governor, Dr. Zink and Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum, have been holding these briefings almost daily since March 10.

They’ve shared updates on the number of people in the state with confirmed cases, announced public health mandates, and explained the administration’s strategy and rationale.

They’ve imposed several public health mandates that have reshaped daily life across Alaska to combat the spread of the virus. Those mandates and other Alaska-specific COVID-19 resources and information are available at coronavirus.alaska.gov.

You can watch today’s press conference live on this post, the governor’s Facebook or Livestream pages, or on 360 North television.

The headline for this story has been updated.

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