On March 10, Congress made history by passing President Biden’s American Rescue Plan. The plan will be law by the time this column goes to print.
To paraphrase the president, this is a big deal for Alaska. Our state will receive more than a billion dollars at a time when help is needed to weather one of the worst financial situations in generations.
I’ve lived in Alaska all my life, and I have never seen anything like the economic uncertainty of the past year. Alaska is still reeling from oil prices tanking, tourism collapsing and retail businesses shutting down. Additional pain is being felt from skyrocketing unemployment (nationally, we lost 12 million jobs), increasing poverty, struggling schools and the decrease of state and local tax revenue (40% in Alaska). The strain on everyone has been overwhelming.
At the same time, we continue to face a health crisis. Most of us know a fellow Alaskan who has died from Covid-19 and many of us know others that have suffered from the virus. Alaskans have done a fantastic job fighting the virus by adopting early shutdown orders, observing mask and social distancing mandates, teleworking and getting people vaccinated.
Much of our success is owed to our front-line public service workers and public health heroes.
Our nurses, hospital workers, police, EMTs, dispatchers and facility staff have done a tremendous job taking care of Alaska’s most vulnerable population groups.
We are also lucky to have workers and businesses that have gone out of their way to make sure we are safe, fed, transported and have the utilities needed to keep our state, towns, business and homes powered and functioning. These are the Alaskans who keep Alaska running. Our state can’t afford to lose them to layoffs or through failed businesses.
That’s why we need the American Rescue Plan to get us through the next year. This plan will assist in getting our economy functioning again, and help educators and administrators open our schools safely. This plan will assist businesses in-need and get people back to work. This plan will help us turn the corner as we defeat this virus.
Here’s how President Biden’s American Rescue Plan helps Alaska and gives us a hand up over the next year:
— $1.45 billion in flexible funds for Alaska state and local government.
— $250 million in local fiscal relief including $56 million in direct funds for Anchorage and $19 million in direct funds for the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
— More than $370 million in relief for K-12 schools.
— $20 million in direct funds for Alaska tribes.
— Economic impact payments of up to $1,400 for more than 430,000 adults and 193,000 children in Alaska.
— Extensions of enhanced unemployment benefits• nAn additional $40 million in housing assistance for renters, homeowners, and our homeless population.
— Provides $500 million to upgrade our veterans’ homes.
— Extends the 15% increase in SNAP benefits until September 2021 to assist the more than 62,000 adults that report not having enough food to eat.
This aid offers Alaska a tremendous opportunity to finish vaccinating Alaskans, put people to work, continue providing public services, open schools, and keep small businesses thriving into the next year.
None of this would be possible but for President Biden’s leadership and the work of the majority parties in Congress. America’s AFL-CIO union members, including ASEA/AFSCME Local 52, and local leaders worked tirelessly and provided leadership to ensure the Rescue Plan became law. They deserve our thanks and gratitude.
This Rescue Plan is a lifesaver for Alaska, but it is of short duration. We’ve been offered a hand up and now we owe ourselves a sustainable financial plan that gets Alaska permanently out of this crisis.
Thankfully, legislative leaders are working to implement a fair financial plan that keeps Alaska healthy. I ask Alaskans to continue using your voice to support these efforts. Their success is key to a stronger, brighter Alaska for all of us. May we be successful.
Jake Metcalfe is the executive director of ASEA/AFSCME Local 52, AFL-CIO in Anchorage.