Friday, June 5, 2020
Let's Help Childcare Facilities
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of economic pain. Among those hit the hardest are Alaska's childcare providers.

On Wednesday, I joined many of my colleagues in sending a letter to the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services requesting additional financial help for this vital industry.

I support using some of the recently approved federal COVID-19 relief money to help Alaska's childcare providers because they empower moms and dads across the state to return to work as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

As we note in the letter, "the State of Alaska has the funds, the Department has the authority to allocate them, and childcare providers are a critical component of reopening Alaska’s economy safely and responsibly."
Small Business Alerts
A new service has been set up in Anchorage to keep business owners up to date on the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions in place to try and keep people safe.

ANC Small Biz Alerts are delivered via text message. Subscribers will get information on available relief funding and safety criteria.

To subscribe text STRONG to 907-891-7192.
Where's the Money?

Now that the Legislature adjourned after more or less authorizing CARES Act funding, people are asking, “Where is the money and how is it being distributed?” To answer this question, we first need to understand what happened and what should have happened.

Alaska’s constitution designates the Legislature the sole power to appropriate. To a limited extent, the Legislature can delegate that power, as we did in the budget we passed in late March. First, we said that additional federal funding to existing programs could be received and spent with the approval of the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee (LBAC), just like we do every year. Then, because of the Coronavirus, we also gave the governor power to receive any federal funding for Health or Labor purposes related to the virus response.

Out of the $1.5 billion in CARES Act money Alaska was getting from the federal government, almost $400 million of it was for health programs, so it was already pre-approved. The Governor introduced a package to the LBAC to spend the rest. Eleven separate programs, totaling about $200 million, were, in some way, expanding some other federally funded program in the budget. These are things like airports, school lunches, and homelessness programs, and were approved by the LBAC with just some technical cleanup.

However, it was the other $900 million that was problematic. It wasn’t the programs themselves: there was broad agreement that this money should be used to help municipalities, businesses, and fisheries. But there were no specific programs for these already in the budget, so it simply wasn’t legal for LBAC to approve them.

There was immense pressure and a lot of anger directed at the committee because of the need to get the money out as quickly as possible to Alaskans who were hurting. As chair, I was obligated to rule the packet out of order because there were severe legal and constitutional issues that left the money vulnerable to being held up even longer, but I was outvoted by the committee. Within a couple of days, the action was challenged by a lawsuit.

The right thing to do would have been to come back to Juneau when the Governor introduced the package in April and pass legislation to describe the emergency programs and appropriate the money.

In the end, the Legislature had to come to Juneau anyway to try and make the committee action legal. By then, it was three days from the end of the session, and there was no time to do it right. The “ratification” action we took was not a true appropriation, and we still don’t know if the court will find it legal. If future federal money becomes available, this may compound the problem. But for now, the funding is allowed to go forward, although there remain problems with the programs that could have been fixed in the legislative process.

The community distribution funding formula was strangely put together, and kind of arbitrary. Half of it was mostly based on the state’s existing revenue sharing program, except for how unincorporated communities were treated and that all the money goes out in a single year. The other half was based on how much tax revenue (other than property taxes) a community may lose. The problem is, the U.S. Treasury said this money could not be used to replace lost tax revenue. If the funds are misused, the feds can ask for their money back. The Dunleavy administration reacted to this by requiring individual cities to take on the risk, hoping they will be responsible for paying it back if anything goes wrong.

I’m especially concerned about the small business program. Based on input, the administration changed its proposal from a loan program to a grant program. Then they unsuccessfully tried to change the rules to expand eligibility to companies who have already received prior federal funding (like PPP and disaster loans). Not including them is unfair. Businesses would have held off for the more generous assistance had they known it would become available.

At this moment, if a business received $1 in federal relief, they would be denied the possible $100,000 they could collect under the new state program. However, the administration wrote the exemption into the program, which the LBAC couldn’t amend, nor could the Legislature during the ratification process. That’s why the program didn’t begin accepting applications until Monday. If they still want to make this change, the administration will likely have to go back to the Legislature.

Honestly, it would have been easier to just do it right the first time.

Please be safe,

Chris Tuck
Youth Risk Behavior Survey
The results of a biannual survey of high school aged students have been released and they are somewhat disturbing.

The 2019 Alaska Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows that 1 out of 4 adolescents use vaping products, which is a significant increase from 2017. Even more disturbing is that 1 out of 5 youth attempted suicide in 2019. I was especially troubled by the finding that 15 percent of high school students had taken prescription pain medication without a doctor's prescription.

There was some good news in the results. For instance, only 8 percent of respondents say they smoke cigarettes, which is down a full 10 percentage points since 2007. It's also good news that fewer students are drinking alcohol. 21 percent of respondents reported drinking in 2019, which is way down from the 40 percent who reported drinking in 2007.

The 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey is based on the anonymous and confidential answers provided by 1,875 students from 39 high schools in Alaska.