PHONING IT IN – Lisa Langenfeld, court reporter, is pictured alone inside the Sitka Courthouse Tuesday as judge lawyers and others speak remotely over the audio system. A sign posted on the door says,  "Effective Immediately TELEPHONIC PARTICIPATION ONLY FOR ALL HEARINGS. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Alaska Governor Urges Supplemental Dividend in Aid Proposal

By BECKY BOHRER

The Associated Press

JUNEAU (AP) — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy called on lawmakers Friday to approve checks of about $1,300 for residents to help offset economic impacts of the coronavirus.

He called it the quickest way to get money into the hands of Alaskans, many of whom have been affected by the temporary closure of bars, restaurants, gyms, theaters and other venues in a bid to slow the virus' spread.

The amount he is calling for is equal to what he argues Alaskans are owed as part of their 2019 Permanent Fund dividend checks. Dunleavy has advocated paying a dividend using a formula last used in 2015 amid a persistent state deficit. Lawmakers last year approved a $1,606 check. Under the formula, the Department of Revenue has said the check would have been $2,910. 

Dunleavy mistakenly said the amount was $1,306; his spokesman, Jeff Turner, confirmed the amount sought is $1,304. 

The Republican governor's proposal also includes plans to create a $1 billion disaster relief fund and direct the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. to suspend foreclosures and evictions. He took no immediate questions.

His budget office, in documents, said the $1 billion would come from earnings of the state's oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund. While the exact use of the funds isn't certain, they would help match federal funds or otherwise respond to the situation as it progresses, the document states.

Turner said the sources for the $1 billion were being determined.

The proposed supplemental dividend would take $815 million from permanent fund earnings. 

This comes with lawmakers eager to complete their most pressing work in the coming days, which includes budgets. The state, which relies on oil revenue and permanent fund earnings to help pay for government, has struggled with a persistent deficit. For years, lawmakers, at odds over how best to resolve the deficit, have drawn down savings accounts to cover expenses. 

Members of the House and Senate majorities all session have been loathe to violate a preset draw on permanent fund earnings, which for the fiscal year starting July 1 is $3.1 billion. Use of the constitutional budget reserve, another option, requires support from three-fourths of each the House and Senate. Some House minority members withheld support for using the fund on a supplemental spending bill, seeing their votes as negotiating tools in pushing for a spending cap or larger dividend.

Senate President Cathy Giessel told reporters earlier Friday that proposals at the federal level could include payments to individuals. 

"We don't want to duplicate what the federal government is doing. We want to work hand-in-hand with them," she said.

Senate Finance Committee Co-chair Bert Stedman said the budget proposal his committee is working on would include aid to local governments through the school bond debt reimbursement and community assistance programs. 

Stedman said lawmakers needed to review Dunleavy's economic proposal. He said he wants to avoid a political reaction to the situation.

The COVID-19 illness causes mild or moderate symptoms in most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or those with existing health problems. 

Here are other developments involving the coronavirus:

EXTENDED SCHOOL CLOSURE

Dunleavy announced late Friday night that all public and private schools in Alaska will remain closed until May 1.

TRAVEL CONCERN

State health officials say they strongly advise Alaskans cease non-essential travel out of state and that tourist or non-essential business travel to Alaska be suspended for now in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

The advisory also recommends Alaskans cease non-essential long-distance travel within the state.

TESTING SWABS

Anchorage's emergency management office asked medical providers to donate swabs, citing a shortage of testing swabs and lack of a definitive shipping date to receive more. 

RECALL GROUP

A group seeking to recall Dunleavy is continuing its signature-gathering efforts with what it calls a sign-at-home option. 

The campaign said registered voters could request to have a personal petition booklet mailed to them. Campaign manager Claire Pywell said the Recall Dunleavy campaign worked with the Division of Elections to ensure the plan was allowable. 

An email seeking comment was sent to a Department of Law spokeswoman.

UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS

The number of new unemployment claims jumped from 687 between March 8 and 14 to more than 4,000 between Sunday and Thursday, said Lennon Weller with the state labor department.

The unemployment insurance trust fund has about $495 million, Weller said. While its hard to predict what payments will be, the fund can handle "quite an increase for several months," Weller said. 

JUNEAU AIRPORT

The City and Borough of Juneau announced it has started a voluntary screening program for people arriving at Juneau International Airport. 

Under the program, passengers who land at the airport can decide if they want a temperature check. Those registering a temperature of 100.4 will get advice on such things as contacting a medical provider and isolating themselves, the city said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises individuals to call a medical provider if they think they've been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever and symptoms such as coughing or difficulty breathing.

DENALI

Officials at Denali National Park and Preserve on Friday suspended issuing climbing permits for the tallest mountain in North America.

No permits have been issued to climb Denali or Mount Foraker this year. The climbing season in the national park about 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Anchorage usually begins in late April and ends in mid-July. Refunds will be issued to those who have started the registration process.

The park service said high alpine mountaineering usually involves flights in small planes and shared equipment, tents and camp facilities.

"In light of these and other factors, such as the difficulty maintaining recommended hygiene protocols in a mountain environment, park officials have determined it is not feasible to adequately protect the health of mountaineering rangers, other emergency responders, pilots, and the climbing public at this time," Denali officials said in a statement.

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Associated Press reporter Mark Thiessen contributed from Anchorage, Alaska.

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 4-1-20)


By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 3 p.m. Wednesday. 

The list includes the total cases (and what portions are travel and non-travel-related or still being investigated):

 Total - 143 (40, 103)

 Anchorage area – 67 (24, 43)

 Homer – 2 (1, 1)

 Kenai – 1 (1, 0)

 Seward – 1 (1, 0)

 Soldotna – 2 (1, 1)

 Sterling – 2 (0, 2)

 Fairbanks area – 40 (7, 33)

 Mat-Su – 4 (2, 2)

 Juneau – 10 (1, 9)

 Ketchikan – 14 (2, 12)

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is nine, and the cumulative number of deaths is three.

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Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

The Sentinel is calling upon its customers to observe the COVID-19 emergency precautions already in place, particularly in maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at newspaper distribution sites.

Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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