State Senate approves $1,000 stimulus checks

The Alaska Senate passed the state budget on Monday, including a $1,000 economic stimulus payment to everyone who received a permanent fund dividend last year.

Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Shower proposed the payment as an amendment to the budget bill. He said federal stimulus isn’t certain.

“I would love that we did not have to do something like this right now, and that we could save the money moving forward,” Shower said. “But, again, we are betting on those things to happen, while people are suffering right now. It’s not a want. This is a need.”

Senators intend for the payments to be made immediately after the bill passes.

Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman opposed the stimulus payment. He said Alaskans will have specific needs — like food banks, housing, hospitals and ambulances — that would be better served with more targeted spending.

“We have a limited amount of funds,” Stedman said. “We need to be targeted in how we allocate them, so we don’t see a COVID-19 virus flying by like a flock of ducks, and we grab our 12-gauge and just shoot in the air and hope something falls out.”

The House passed the operating budget, House Bill 205, earlier this month. The Senate added the capital budget to the bill.

If the House doesn’t agree to the changes the Senate made, a conference committee would meet to hash out the differences between the two versions.

Read more coronavirus coverage from Alaska Public Media

The stimulus payment would be drawn from the Alaska Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve account. It would not follow a limit on spending from fund earnings passed in a 2018 state law.

The stimulus payment passed 12-7. The budget passed 17-1. Eagle River Republican Sen. Lora Reinbold was the only “no” vote on the budget, saying that it contained no meaningful spending reductions.