That $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill — What’s in it for Alaska?

Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday night passed stimulus and coronavirus relief bill. The House is likely to pass it Friday and President Trump says he’ll sign it into law. Here are some of the provisions that could help the 49th state.

DIRECT PAYMENTS – For Alaskans, this might feel like an extra Permanent Fund dividend, but earlier, and most Americans will get one.

The federal bill would send $1,200 to adults and $500 for each child under 17. The money tapers for individuals earning more than $75,000. 

A lot is still up in the air, but your check could come in the next few weeks. Or, watch for a direct deposit in your bank account, if you used that account for your last tax payment or refund. The New York Times reports you won’t need to apply for this dividend. The IRS knows where to find you.

Catch up on the latest stories about the impacts of coronavirus in Alaska.

MONEY FOR STATE COFFERS – The legislation sends $1.25 billion dollars to Alaska’s state coffers.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski says Alaska needed the help even before the coronavirus struck. 

“The financial situation we were in was pretty tough,” she told reporters Thursday. “It’s even tougher now as we see the hit to our economy. So this assistance to the state, I think, is going to be very, very meaningful.”

MONEY FOR TRIBES AND TRIBAL ORGANIZATIONS – Tribal governments would be able to tap into an $8 billion tribal stabilization fund to offset virus-related expenses. The bill has another $1 billion or so to help the Indian Health Service cope with increased health care costs and contain the virus.

PAYMENTS TO FISHERMEN – The pandemic has devastated some markets for seafood. The bill has $300 million for fishermen nationwide to help them deal with that. Fishermen can also take advantage of other benefits in the bill for small business.

Murkowski said, as with the tribal funds, it’s too early to say how much of the money intended for fishermen is headed for Alaska.

“I think what you should know is that there was every effort made to ensure that small population states were not disenfranchised,” she said.

SMALL BUSINESS RELIEF – The bill includes a “paycheck protection” program to help small businesses and their employees. Business owners can apply for government-backed bank loans intended to help them keep up with payroll, health-insurance premiums and mortgages.

“Then, after an eight week period, if that’s what they used a loan for, that loan will be forgiven,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan. “So the whole idea here is to keep a connection between the employers and their employees, even if they’re not coming into work right now.”

The cost of the bill – $2.2 trillion – is high. It’s more than 60% of all the tax revenues the government collected in 2019. It’s nearly triple the cost of the stimulus bill President Obama pushed through in 2009 to combat the Great Recession. Both Murkowski and Sullivan criticized Obama’s bill, saying it was too expensive, and added too much to the national debt. But they support this bill.

Murkowski said the government has to shut down much of the economy to save lives, so, she said, it has a corresponding obligation to lessen the economic impact.

“And it is considerable. It is breathtaking,” she said. “And it is something that decades from now, we will still be talking about the COVID-19 hit to our nation’s economy.”

She and Sullivan said the magnitude of the crisis now justifies the deficit spending. Sullivan said the money will jumpstart the economy, if the pandemic ends soon. 

“But we don’t know how long it’s going to last,” he said. “And we thought that going big, bipartisan and bold right now is the best way to help our citizens get through this.”