Northern Valley food pantry director discusses potential veto impacts

The Upper Susitna Food Pantry. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Manning)
The Upper Susitna Food Pantry. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Manning)

With the Alaska Legislature split between Juneau and Wasilla at the beginning of its most recent special session, there were not enough votes to override Governor Mike Dunleavy’s vetoes to the state budget.  Now, there may be a plan in the work to reinstate some funding through additional bills, but what would it mean if the cuts stand? 

There are many non-profits in the Northern Valley, but perhaps one of the most critical to the lives of many in the area is the Upper Susitna Food Pantry.  Louanne Carrol-Tysdal is the pantry’s executive director.  While her organization is not receiving direct cuts from the governor’s vetoes, she is concerned that many of her clients will be impacted, especially those who receive cash benefits.

Inside the Upper Susitna Food Pantry. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Manning)
Inside the Upper Susitna Food Pantry. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Manning)

“One of the things in the population we serve that becomes so apparent very quickly is every penny counts,” Carrol-Tysdal says. “Even a $75 benefit can make such a difference.”

For example, she estimates ninety senior citizens who utilize the pantry also received monthly senior benefit checks of $75 to $250 from the state.  Some of those payments ended a couple of months ago as funding ran short.  As of now, the program has no funds for the new fiscal year.  Governor Dunleavy has stated that Alaskans can utilize the proposed statutory dividend of around $3,000 to supplement their income, but Carrol-Tysdal says that big check, if it comes, would disqualify some seniors from a special, income-restricted program.

“The senior box program, it has a yearly income [cap], and the Permanent Fund [Dividend] will put fifty-three to sixty percent of my seniors over that income, which means for the entire year they won’t be eligible for that service.  That is so much food they lose because of the permanent fund.”

Carrol-Tysdal says what that would mean is more demand on the pantry itself.  While the organization does not receive any state funding, it may also face some budgetary strain due to cuts to the state’s community assistance program.  Under that program, municipalities distribute grants to local organizations within their own community. Fewer funds to distribute could mean less money for the pantry.

“So we have to find alternate sources of funding, and we’re going to have to do it quickly. I think the worst thing that could happen is we have to diminish our service, God forbid, but there will have to be some drastic changes.”

Carrol-Tysdal says July and August are slightly less busy for the pantry’s regular distribution, since there are more jobs available.  She says many of her clients are able to make ends meet better during the busy tourist season by working multiple jobs, but that changes when the buses leave in September.

If the cuts stand as they are, she is not sure what the ultimate impact will be, but that the area’s elders and working poor could face increased food insecurity as the winter approaches.