In surprise Juneau Assembly visit, Sen. Sullivan talks CARES Act and pandemic response

U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, at a press availability fol
U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, speaks at a press availability following his annual address to the Alaska Legislature in 2016. Sullivan was in Juneau on Monday and made a surprise appearance at the Juneau Assembly’s video conference meeting. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan made a surprise appearance at the Juneau Assembly’s meeting on Monday night

Alaska’s junior Republican senator discussed what he and the federal government have gotten done so far in response to the pandemic. 

“Through legislation, it was trying to get resources, as many resources as we could to our fellow Alaskans through different legislation — the CARES Act being the biggest one. But there was three different bills we passed prior to that,” he said. 

The CARES Act is the federal law that sent more than $1 billion in pandemic relief money to the state of Alaska, much of which was passed on to municipal governments. It’s paying for everything from first responders’ salaries to business loans and grants. And, in the case of Skagway,  $1,000 direct payments to residents

Sullivan took credit for carving out $300 million specifically for fishermen within the CARES Act. He said he helped negotiate the $8 billion commitment to tribes in the CARES Act. And after the law passed, he said he’s been leaning on the Treasury Department, which is running the distribution of the relief money, to accommodate Alaska-specific issues. 

“This legislation that we passed wasn’t perfect,” he said. “Certain entities needed to be covered weren’t. Some that were covered, probably didn’t need to be. But overall, we’re trying to tweak that, continue to work it.”

For example, he said employers’ eligibility for Paycheck Protection Program relief was initially tied to their most recent payroll. In the spring, that severely limited summer seasonal businesses that hadn’t ramped up yet. Sullivan said he worked directly with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin so seasonal businesses can use past seasons’ payroll as a basis for eligibility for the program. 

Going forward, Sullivan said he has a bill pending with bipartisan support called the Coronavirus Relief Fund Flexibility Act. The bill would let state and local governments use CARES Act money to replace lost revenue. As it stands, governments generally can only spend CARES Act money on direct response to and relief from the pandemic. They generally can’t spend it on regular government operations, which rely on tax revenue hurt by the pandemic.  

Sullivan said he’d also look into extending the end-of-year deadline for spending CARES Act money. 

“What you don’t want to have people do is, like, rush spending. Uh, which would be stupid,” he said. 

Sullivan repeatedly urged constituents to reach out to his local office for help working through federal programs. 

“If you have problems, if you’re a constituent, didn’t get their relief check? Fisherman thinks he’s eligible for the stabilization fund? If there’s tribal community or Alaska Native corp that hasn’t been able to benefit? Anyone, send ’em my way. We’ve been doing tons of case work, and have had a lot of success,” Sullivan said. 

Congress is on its Fourth of July recess. The senator was physically in Juneau, though the Assembly continues to meet by video conference. Congress resumes its session in Washington D.C. next week. 

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