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Alaska set to receive $1.25 billion from federal coronavirus relief package

Photo Source: Max Pixel / CC0 1.0 / MGN
Photo Source: Max Pixel / CC0 1.0 / MGN(KALB)
Published: Mar. 26, 2020 at 1:50 PM AKDT
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The State of Alaska is set to receive a minimum of $1.25 billion in federal aid from a multitrillion-dollar coronavirus relief package.

Republican Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan said by teleconference that the bill originally didn’t have a minimum payment for states, meaning small-population states like Alaska could miss out. “That didn’t work for us,” Murkowski said.

Now each state, regardless of population, will receive a minimum of $1.25 billion and Alaska’s share could rise.

Those funds could be significant for Alaska. The state’s finances have struggled in recent weeks with oil prices plummeting, the value of the Permanent Fund plunging and tourism and fishing expected to be impacted by COVID-19.

“The financial situation we were in was pretty tough, it’s even tougher now as we see the hit to our economy,” Murkowski said. “So, this assistance to the state is going to be very, very meaningful.”

Sullivan said the stimulus package is a vital injection of liquidity to stop the nation from spiraling into a deep recession or even depression.

The cash payment to states is part of a $2.2 trillion dollar bill that also provides payments to individual taxpayers.

Individual Alaskans are set to receive a $1,200 check, a $2,400 check for couples filing jointly with an additional $500 paid per child. The size of the check received starts phasing out for individual incomes over $75,000 per year.

Sullivan told reporters that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had said in a briefing with senators that those cash payments should be made within 2-3 weeks. “And we’re going to hold him to that,” Sullivan said.

The federal legislation, passed by the US Senate Wednesday evening and expected to be passed soon by the House of Representatives, also contains an increase to unemployment benefits:

  • Unemployed Alaskans would receive an additional $600 per week above the state unemployment rate for four months.
  • Alaskans could receive an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits beyond the state maximum limit of 26 weeks.
  • The bill provides for 39 weeks of unemployment benefits for Alaskans not eligible for benefits like the self-employed, those in the gig economy and people under quarantine.

Members of the Alaska Legislature had considered increasing unemployment benefits at a state level but have nixed the idea for now with the federal government stepping in.

The bill contains many other spending measures that could benefit Alaska. Murkowski warned that it’s hard to quantify how much Alaska might receive from each spending item. “I think we’re all really guesstimating right now,” she said.

  • $8 billion for tribes: Murkowski said although Alaska has roughly 50% of the nation’s tribes that doesn’t necessarily mean the state’s tribes will receive $4 billion.
  • $300 million for fishermen: Payments would be made to commercial fishermen, subsistence fishermen, fishing businesses and fishing communities. Sullivan said as Alaska catches roughly 60% of the nation’s seafood that the state could expect a sizable chunk of that appropriation.
  • $100 million for a program providing rural distance learning, telemedicine, and broadband.
  • $56 million for Essential Air Service to continue supporting payments to rural air carriers, including those that serve 60 rural Alaskan communities.
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