Alaska’s U.S. senators vote for multi-billion dollar coronavirus bill; Rep. Don Young is absent

Sen. Lisa Murkowski. (Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Congress is working to provide economic relief for Americans who are suffering financial losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Senate on Wednesday passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, a bill that originated in the House, and President Trump signed it into law.

“The key focus of it is the paid leave, the paid sick leave, for those who are in quarantine or those that have to take time for childcare,” Murkowski said.

The bill also helps states process unemployment benefits, and loosens some of the requirements. (It was pared down before Senate passage.) Both Alaska senators voted for the legislation, which is estimated to cost about $105 billion.

Alaska Congressman Don Young was absent when the House voted on it early Saturday. His office did not respond when asked why. 

By the end of this week, Murkowski says, the Senate hopes to pass a massive stimulus plan that includes direct payments of maybe $1,000, to most Americans.

“It’s my understanding at this point in time  – and keep in mind, everything is very much in flux – but that there would be income limitations in terms of, you make over a certain amount and the direct benefit assistance would … be capped,” she said.

The bill could total $1 trillion, including loans for the airlines and other industries.

“It is an extraordinary price tag, but the cost of doing nothing – or not enough – would also be extraordinarily costly to the strength of this country,” she said.

In 2009, Murkowski voted against President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus bill to counteract the Great Recession. Among her objections then was the cost. She said the situation is more severe now.

“You can second-guess it. But I can tell you right now: Where we are, where our nation’s economy is, where I fear our state’s economy is headed – we’ve never been in a situation like this,” she said. “And it’s almost breathtaking in terms of how quickly it has come upon us.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan did not agree to an interview. His office referred us to a “Hello, fellow Alaskans” video produced this week in a Senate studio.

“I want you to know that we are working around the clock to help our state and our country deal with the these unprecedented challenges surrounding the coronavirus pandemic that came from China,” he said on the video.

Sullivan goes on to speak favorably of an economic aid package, even though he was highly critical of President Obama for spending so much on a smaller relief bill.