Alaska State COVID-19 Policy Asks

The Alaska Center works across the state to sustain our families, cultures, and communities while ensuring Alaskans have a voice in their future. This grave pandemic demands a comprehensive and all-encompassing response. The health and wellbeing of our fellow citizens and residents are at stake. In solidarity with several other Alaska non-profit organizations, The Alaska Center asks you to prioritize people over corporations, and we thank you for the steps you’ve taken to ensure these protections, namely HB 308, HB310, and SB 241 and SB 242.

In addition to the critical policies already being considered, below are additional priorities to consider, in order to ensure a safe and functioning society during this time of crisis. The scale of needed assistance is likely to be massive and matched only by a few other dire historical events, and calls for exceptional action.

  • Utility shut-off moratorium, waived late fees, and a halt to evictions, foreclosures, and repossessions. Currently, all of these provisions except repossessions are laid out in HB 310. These measures are necessary to ensure that individuals and families remain housed. Halting repossessions are critical for those who live in structures that would be classified as vehicles. It is also crucial that people maintain their access to transportation, as carpooling and other forms of unregulated transport can hasten the spread of COVID-19, and having a vehicle repossessed can isolate individuals from necessary services.

  • Halt all debt collection activities. In many states, there has been a halt called on all debt collection activity, including wage garnishment, recognizing the need to keep money in consumers’ pockets. As people lose funds and therefore access to critical services like food and shelter, it is harmful and risky to continue siphoning capital out of consumers’ pockets. There should be a halt called to all debt collection activities during the pandemic, with a forgiveness period of up to 120 days after the emergency has passed.

  • Designate grocery stores and other frontline workers as emergency workers. Our communities’ well-being is currently in the care of hourly workers, including those who work in domestic violence shelters, who do not have access to health care or childcare, and are providing essential services. Their positions should be redesignated as emergency workers. Like in Vermont and Minnesota, this reclassification should include access to healthcare and childcare.
  • Cap interest rates at a maximum of 36% on all loans. As consumers run out of cash and increasingly turn to short-term loans, it is critical that their immediate choices do not result in long-term debt. Currently, some loans in Alaska have an annualized interest rate of 521% APR. All loans should have an interest rate capped at 36% APR, in accordance with the Military Lending Act’s interest rate cap, during this economic crisis.

  • Lift telecommunication and broadband data caps. All telecommunications and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must conform to other large corporation decisions, like AT&T and Comcast, and lift all telecommunications data caps.  No internet service provider should rake in extra profits from harsh data caps at a time when people have to work, study, and stay informed about a global health emergency at home.

  • Extend state comment periods. All hands are on deck dealing with our national and global emergency. It is inappropriate to focus on comments on proposed regulatory rules at this time, given the dire and grave needs of our fellow citizens and residents that our organizations are addressing. Organizations and individuals cannot provide sufficient attention to the complex changes contemplated by the proposed rule-making, and therefore all comment periods should be extended at least by 90 days.

  • Protect state employees. The 7,900 members of the state employees union deserve a healthy workplace and considered remote work practices in response to this pandemic. Non-essential employees should be required to work from, and employees should not have to depend on their supervisor to implement proper guidelines. 
  • Distance voting. Senate Bill 241 includes the option for the Lieutenant Governor to declare a vote by mail primary or special election. We applaud this proposal and encourage future legislative action and funding to ensure that Alaskans can fully participate in upcoming elections from the safety of their home, and that any recount efforts are conducted in a manner that protects election workers. 

  • Protect our homeless communities. Provide funding for daytime shelters that have access to food, water and toilets and follow the recommended social distancing guidelines from the CDC.

  • Protect the incarcerated. The Department of Corrections must consider releasing some incarcerated Alaskans, in particular those who are non-violent offenders, already cleared for parole or work release, or currently awaiting trial. Incarcerated people and those who work in our jails are uniquely vulnerable, in overcrowded conditions with little to no access to personal protective equipment, thus creating an incubator-like situation. Correctional officers and other staff returning home every night heighten the risk for our whole community. We are requesting a united community response to avoid the worst case scenarios likely if we do not act.

  • Ensure sufficient funding for women's shelters throughout the state. Women are disproportionate targets of violence during times of emergency. We must ensure that women and children are safe from domestic violence during and after this COVID-19 emergency response time.

Thank you for protecting Alaskans, 

Polly Carr
Executive Director
The Alaska Center
707 A Street
Anchorage, Alaska 99501