by the Association of Village Council Presidents
AVCP recognizes the Governor’s proposed budget is intended to be a catalyst for discussion. Let’s have part of that discussion in the Yukon Kuskokwim (YK) Delta. Here is our first question: What is the State of Alaska’s role in the lives of Alaskans living in the 48 communities in Western Alaska?
Discussions like these, that greatly affect our regions rarely occur in our region. In a state as large as Alaska, lifestyles are largely defined by unique environments and local resources, especially for our tribal populations. Place-based discussions would greatly inform the process of budgetary decision-making, normally a remote process done from the state capital.
AVCP represents 56 tribes across 48 communities in the YK Delta. Our remote villages are already financially strained, and the most dramatic effects of the Governor’s proposed budget will be disproportionately felt in the poorest households in the State. The Governor’s budget undermines the strategies we have implemented and are in the process of implementing, toward a thriving future.
As the voice of the region, AVCP is engaging in budget discussion with tribal representatives and the Alaska Legislature in the areas outlined below.
The $3 million reduction to the Village Public Safety Officer (VPSO) Program has significantly reduced our ability as a grantee to administer public safety services in our region, where 88% of communities already lack law the presence of a VPSO. With public safety coverage at an all-time low in rural communities statewide, our communities rely upon our ability to deploy VPSOs in emergency situations. The Temporary Duty Yonder (TDY) funding has already been eliminated from our VPSO budget in fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019. Recruitment is deeply affected by lack of funds. This funding must remain in the villages charged with recruiting and deploying officers.
Early Childhood Education
One of the unintended consequences of the proposed budget is that it will disproportionately narrow the already inequitable opportunity gap awaiting our children. AVCP’s strategic efforts will be undermined through this cut to our future population, starting with ages zero to five-years-old, through the elimination of the Head Start Program.
The $357,948 cut to early childhood education will also eliminate the match of federal grant funding to AVCP’s Head Start program – an essential component of child welfare in our region. Head Start prepares children to start grade-level education. Statistically, Head Start students are 93% less likely to end up in foster care. This is demonstrable, proactive, programmatic success that reduces the State’s financial burden in reactive measures.
Further, the proposed budget would eliminate a federal Head Start Program performance requirement through the $140,850 cut to the Child & Adult Care Food Program. This leaves children who have already been identified as needy, that much more nutritionally insecure.
As part of the Governors campaign promise stated on the October 19, 2018 debate, rural education spending would increase. His expressed interest was in “beefing up what we have in regional areas,” including Bethel. AVCP wishes to clarify that the Head Start Program is an integral and substantial component of rural education.
AVCP supports the University of Alaska (UA) as a vital resource that assists in increasing economic opportunities in Western Alaska. Proposed cuts to the UA system will significantly undermine the important progress we have achieved through our partnership with the UA to address poverty and unemployment in our region; and attempts to improve the quality of Western Alaskan economies through workforce development.
The Kuskokwim University Campus (KUC) is the UAF satellite campus based in the hub community of Bethel. It serves as the only viable higher education option for the vast majority of our people, as our region suffers from unreliable internet connectivity at notoriously high costs. Therefore, distance education, or e-learning, is a less viable option for our youth and adults seeking to increase their economic opportunities.
KUC provides 12 certifications, 13 associate degree programs, six bachelor’s degree programs including regionally vital programs to address regionally specific needs, such as Rural Development, and two master’s degree programs.
AVCP partners with UAF to provide occupational endorsements. Through this partnership we are able to develop our local workforce and thereby assist in stimulating our local economy, while saving the State and University money by providing qualified instructors in place-specific fields such as tribal self-governance. By providing instructors, we eliminate traveling and instructor fees, while also covering tuition costs for staff and developing our local workforce. The KUC offers seven occupational endorsements in fields that address the area-specific needs of our region. Six out of seven of occupational endorsements are offered through distance education which limits access for reasons outlined above.
The loss of funding to the Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC) will result in 1,363 Alaskans going without legal assistance. The ALSC is often the only source of civil legal service to low income Alaskans and eliminating state funding could impact up to 2,809 Alaskans. These clients are often victims of domestic violence, victims of crime, individuals with disabilities, seniors, and veterans – often our most vulnerable citizens.
AVCP supports the work done for the 48 villages by the Alaska Legal Services office based in Bethel and recognizes and encourages that to continue; otherwise those services would not be available to the clients living in our villages.
Power Cost Equalization
We urge the State not to place designated Power Cost Equalization (PCE) funds into the General Fund, and for Governor Dunleavy to maintain his campaign promise to us, as stated on August 17, 2018. Please retain this endowment to offset rural power costs, which runs three to five times above the cost of power in urban Alaska. The YK Delta regional economy would lose up to $15.25 million per year. This touches every household in the villages living on the YK Delta. The unintended result of this funding appropriation would fall on the poorest households in the State, who are often forced to choose between paying their electric bill and other activities necessary to sustain a family through the winter. The PCE must remain intact.
The elimination of the State of Alaska match to Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in the YK Delta will affect 520 families with an average of five individuals per family, approximating a total of temporary assistance lost to 2,625 Alaskans.
AVCP advocates for the retention of the State of Alaska TANF match of $4.7 million dollars to maintain $6.6 million in federal TANF funds. AVCP objects to any reduction of funding to help needy families in our underserved region. These calculatable funding cuts will trickle down a host of incalculable effects, such as increases in substance abuse, suicide, violence against our women, and other social ills that our communities are all too familiar with facing.
Compounded with our lack of public safety presence and infrastructure outlined above, the negative effects of these proposed budgetary cuts will be exponentially higher in rural Alaska. Investments made in successfully preventative systems such as the Head Start Program can far outweigh the future costs to the state in later correctional services. We support the State of Alaska to be proactive in this process that touches all the residents living in our communities.
AVCP will be involved in these discussions as the budget advances to the State Legislature. Our great hope is that the result of the legislative budget process is a state government with revitalized concerned about their role in our communities. The future of Alaskan children, our safety, the basic infrastructure of our communities, and an expanded economy, is in their hands.
The AVCP Executive Board strongly encourages the Governor and State Legislature to rethink funding structures and implement a more equitable budget that is fair to rural Alaskans.