A lot of things have changed in Alaska in the week since we last spoke with District P Senator Gary Stevens. Last week there were no coronavirus cases in Alaska and “social distancing” was a strange, new concept. Now the State Capital is closed to the public and the legislature still has a lot of work to do.
Stevens phoned in and spoke with KBBI’s Jay Barrett on Wednesday.
Sen. Gary Stevens: Things have really changed. And of course our goal is to, you know, we have a problem here and that the legislature has to be in a room together in order to pass a budget and do anything. So we're looking, and everyone's concerned, you know, if coronavirus should arrive in this building, everyone would get it. And of course, we couldn't leave until we passed the budget. So we did pass today the supplemental budget, and a lot of good things in it that you should be aware of, but the biggest I've ever seen. Medicaid is the most, the largest thing and that's about $140 million to add into that. The big fires that occurred in the Peninsula, $110 million for that. The what else earthquake in the Valley and Anchorage about $3 million dollars, put about $7 million back into the Marine Highway System and we'll put more into that later, I believe. And then an important thing for communities is we added another $10 million for community assistance. So and then I guess the biggest news, of course, is that we added $15 million in that supplemental budget for the coronavirus. So you make sure that we have the staff, the nursing staff around the state that can take care of folks as this coronavirus continues and we know it's going to. I've had several meetings with the governor and with Dr. Zink, who's had medical pressure for Alaska. And of course her concerns are that it will see spread quickly. So you don't want to frighten people but at the same time everyone needs to be aware of how things are and what they should be doing. And actually then that's not the end of it last night, the governor asked us to consider $1.2 billion more for coronavirus issues because of the businesses that will be affected going out of business. How do we help people who will lose their jobs? At the federal level I think the estimates are now that there'll be 20% unemployment. It's a very different life we're living in right now that we all have to adjust to quickly.
KBBI: Yeah. Now does all this coronavirus budgeting, does this just reflect all on Permanent Fund Dividend talks?
Sen. Gary Stevens: Well, it very well might, I mean, we only have a finite amount of money. And so I don't know I can't show you right now where there's still a lot of interest in a dividend. And we know that people need it probably more than ever right now. I don't believe it'll be as large a dividend as, as the governor was talking about, but you know, you just have to be honest and balance out the money we've got and what we can take from our savings and we'll see that that has yet to be decided. But before we leave here, we will address that issue of how much the dividend will be. I'm sure there will be a dividend. The question is how much is it going to be.
KBBI: Anything else you'd like to add?
Sen. Gary Stevens: I think that's where we are right now. We have closed the building and if things begin things progress quickly and more cases should happen, we'll adjust to that. I guess you realize that the cases that we have so far are all from travelers, no one has passed along in the community that we know of as yet. But you know, that certainly could happen very, very quickly. And realize that these things happen, you know, can double in a day. So, we will be hearing more shortly, but I just want to encourage people to be calm about this to realize that, that this soon will pass and we need to take care of yourself and your family and, and try to try to isolate yourself if you can try not to go out in large crowds and all the things I know you've heard from all sorts of people but but really, really important, Jay and I hope people abide by those those rules. And one thing we're hearing Now, of course, is that young people are the biggest carriers. So they don't, they don't normally are not normally affected so much in sickness or anything like that, but, but they are the ones that could be carriers. So if you have young people around there, I hope it convinced them to do the same thing. So isolate themselves and, stay away from crowds.
KBBI: All right, Gary, thanks so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
Sen. Gary Stevens: Thanks Jay, great talking to you. Take care.