by Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky
March 21, 2020
Dear friends + neighbors,
I know I join you in the reality of our lives, communities, and world shifting and changing in a matter of weeks, days, and sometimes hours. I share with you feelings of uncertainty and vigilance about the presence of COVID-19 in Alaska, but also a deep sense of gratitude for ‘the helpers.’ The helpers being our incredible health care organizations, researchers and care teams, educators who are ensuring our students are taken care of during this time, and non-profits offering communities important safety nets when vulnerable Alaskans need it most.
The global pandemic of COVID-19, its effects on our stock market, and global oil prices have put Alaska in a public health and economic crisis alongside much of the country. And while this may, at times, feel overwhelming, in Juneau we are working as nimbly and efficiently as we can to minimize impacts on Alaskans and this state we all love.
We are striving to stabilize our economy and essential State programs by working to pass timely and meaningfully funded budgets. The Operating and Capital budgets are before Senate, but expected in the House soon. This week the House passed HB 234, the FY20 Supplemental budget. This funding will ensure the State can continue to provide health care access to Medicaid recipients, pay for the cost of the massive forest fire outbreaks across Alaska last summer, provide relief for Alaska’s COVID-19 response, and complete the “reverse sweep” to protect funds like the Power Cost Equalization endowment.
Unfortunately, some members of the House voted against drawing from the State’s Constitutional Budget Reserve, so as of now a large part of the supplemental remains unfunded. However, I am hopeful that my colleagues will be willing to put aside politics and help our government continue to serve Alaskans at this critical moment in our history.
The House has passed several bills this week that are important to our region and Alaskans across the state, including:
•HB 221, a bill that would, for the first time in Alaska’s history, officially recognize Alaska’s tribes in law. I was excited to vote on this bill in the House Tribal Affairs committee earlier in the session and was honored to vote for the bill again on the House floor.
•SB 74, sponsored by Senator Hoffman, that will help to bring faster internet speeds and better broadband services to schools across the Alaska. Given the importance of the internet in how people learn and communicate today, I was proud to vote “yes” and hope that it will improve educational equity between urban and rural districts.
•SB 123, a bill that will help improve coordination between power utilities on Alaska’s railbelt. While our region’s power utilities will not fall under this bill’s mandate, our region benefits greatly from the State’s Power Cost Equalization program. By driving down the cost of power on the road system, this bill will allow for more Power Cost Equalization subsidies to go towards rural Alaskans.
•One of the most important bills we passed this week was HB 308, a bill that will make it easier for Alaskans to access unemployment insurance if they have been furloughed, lost their job, lost work hours, or are forced to stay home to care for children as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As I reflect on our work this week and the unprecedented issues facing Alaska, and the world, I hang onto the words of a friend from earlier this week—we can be feeling anxiety about the unknown and remind ourselves that it will be okay, because both are true. Please remember that you are not alone. During these trying times, be informed, but avoid information overload. Stay emotionally connected with loved ones, follow facts and trusted sources, and focus on what you can control.
My heart is with you at home in the district, but I remain thankful for the opportunity to represent you here in Juneau. Take care of yourselves and one another my friends.
Reliable Sources for COVID-19 information
The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation, and it can be difficult to know where to get the most accurate and reliable information. Unfortunately, a great amount of unreliable, false and damaging information circulates on the internet. I encourage everyone to access official and non-partisan sources of information, remaining wary of any non-official communication. Some of the most reliable organizations are outlined below and relate to local, state, national and global responses to the pandemic.
YK Delta Region:
The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC), our local Tribal organization that administers a comprehensive healthcare delivery system in southwest Alaska, has developed regionally specific prevention recommendations. In particular, YKHC has published guidance for household disinfection and hand hygiene in communities that lack running water.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) administers a vast collection of programs and services including Medicaid, public health, public assistance behavioral health, senior and disabilities services and child protective service. You can also access the current COVID-19 health mandates and health alerts (see section below with more information on these mandates and alerts).
Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), nation’s health protection agency. Saves lives and protects people from health, safety, and security threats. This organization especially focuses on infectious disease, food borne pathogens, environmental health, and occupational safety.
World Health Organization’s (WHO) primary role is to direct international health within the United Nations’ system and to lead partners in global health response. The WHO’s broad mandate includes advocating for universal healthcare, monitoring public health risks, coordinating responses to health emergencies, and promoting human health and well being. It provides technical assistance to countries and sets international health standards and guidelines.
Health Mandates & Alerts
As of March 21, there have been eight health mandates and nine health alerts issued by the Governor, DHSS Commissioner Adam Crum, and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink. The mandates and alerts are measures intended to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 to “flatten the curve,” ensuring the capacity of our health system is protected and not over burdened.
Current health mandates include the closure of schools through May 1, the statewide closure of bars and restaurants, and the suspension of elective oral and medical procedures.
New mandates are issued frequently so please visit the DHSS website to access the most current information.
Current health alerts include recommendations to limit non-essential travel and give guidelines for appropriate methods of social distancing. In several instances, we have noticed that health alerts have become health mandates as the situation has evolved.
GCI offers internet access
As we begin protective measures, like telecommuting and social distancing to drive down exposure to COVID-19, we will be spending more time inside. Since internet access plays an important role in how we learn, how we keep in touch with friends and family, and how we keep up to date with the news, GCI has made it easier for people to get and keep access to internet plans.
From now through May 31, GCI is connecting households in their service areas with internet plans for free. In addition, GCI is waiving credit checks and deposits for qualifying K-12 students and teachers.
On a final note, I look forward to the return to “normal” on so many fronts. I was looking forward to being home to celebrate with you at Cama-i this weekend, but know that my heart is still with you now. I’ll leave you with my feelings of what Cama-i means to me:
Cama-i is one of my favorite gatherings. It is a celebration of who we are, what we love, and a time to enjoy wonderful company. I look forward to its return.
Contact me or my staff:
Office of Representative Tiffany Zulkosky
Alaska House District 38
Alaska State Capitol, Room 416
Juneau, Alaska 99801