KTUU: Alaska delegation stands by CARES Act allocation, seeks to give states more flexibility

Alaska has the fewest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 of any state in the country, but some people are criticizing Congress for the share of CARES Act aid allocated the state governments.

Tuesday, an Associated Press analysis highlighted that states including Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, and Wyoming do not have very many cases of COVID-19. Each state received the $1.25 billion minimum Congress set for states. States with larger populations received more.

The analysis divided the amount of money received in the cares act by the number of positive tests. For Alaska, that put the amount of aid received at nearly $3.4 million per positive test, while states such as New York received $24,000 per positive test.

Economic leaders from states in the Northeast characterized the allocation as disproportionate.

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan said that he and Sen. Lisa Murkowski fought hard to set the minimum aid for states with smaller populations at $1.25 billion.

"We know that with regard to the pandemic, things are changing on a daily basis. Literally an hourly basis," Sullivan said. "So when people are critical of 'well there aren't many cases,' thank God there are not many cases in Alaska and hopefully it stays that way. But that could change. You look at other states - look at South Dakota. They were looking like they didn't have a lot, then boom, they had a huge spike."

Both senators told Channel 2 part of establishing the minimum at that level was to be able to allow Alaska to surmount the logistical and financial challenges presented by geography, infrastructure, and technology.

"What we have had to do to prepare, we recognize it just costs of us more," Murkowski said. "To ship an Abbott testing machine out to say Bethel is a different situation than moving it in the Lower 48 where you can just put it in a truck and 12 hours later it can be to its destination."

In a statement to Channel 2, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said that reason Alaska has the lowest number of COVID-19 cases in the country is because the state and local governments took "swift action to slow the spread of the virus by essentially closing the state's economy. The consequences of that government initiated action are record unemployment and the suspension of almost all economic activity. Our state's share of the CARES Act funding brings sorely needed direct economic relief to Alaskans, Alaska businesses, schools, non-profits and local governments."

In total, the CARES Act dedicated $150 billion for states and tribes. However, there are restrictions on how the funds can be used that Sullivan says the treasury department is interpreting more narrowly than Congress intended.

Late Wednesday, Sullivan introduced a bill, co-sponsored by Murkowski, along with other Republican, Democrat and Independent senators to give states and local governments more flexibility in how they can use CARES Act funds.

"Now the treasury is putting out regulations, they put out on additional regulation just yesterday that allows the funds to be used for police and fireman salaries. I think that's great, but I still think it's too restrictive," Sullivan said.

The Coronavirus Relief Fund Flexibility Act would not change the amount of funds states receive but allows for state governments to uses the funds received to replace revenue shortfalls resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

"One of the examples I use is the Denali Borough. They're going to have a huge revenue shortfall because of the lack of tourism, and that was a clearly an impact, a direct result of the pandemic. Right now treasury regulations make it look like you can't use any of this significant money to help replace the revenues that have been lost. My bill says no, you should be able to do that," Sullivan said.

Last Friday, the Alaska state legislature authorized $125 million of the federal funds for education, child nutrition programs, rural transportation, and some other areas. The remainder of the funds has not yet been authorized.

By:  Grant Robinson
Source: KTUU