OPINION: Anchorage can’t afford to leave money on the table for harm prevention

Anchorage is a community filled with diversity, a passion to thrive and a desire to prosper. Yet we are faced with challenges that continue to loom and reveal both immediate needs and demand for long-term change. Our current systems are not bringing forward the change our community seeks.

In 2020, Anchorage voters began to reimagine their city. They committed to a bold, practical solution for addressing Anchorage’s most pressing challenges by approving a 5% sales tax on alcoholic beverages sold in the municipality. The new funding is dedicated to three core areas: public safety; preventing child maltreatment, sexual assault, and domestic violence; and preventing and treating substance misuse, mental health disorders and homelessness.

Two years later, the vision formed by Anchorage voters is slowly but surely on its way. The programs funded by the alcohol tax so far shine a bright light on how the funding can work to reimagine Anchorage:

• In 2021, funding directed to the Child Welfare Academy expanded education and training programs to child care providers to strengthen relationships between young children and their families.

• 2021 funds re-ignited the Bettye Davis Youth Leadership Summit, which returned after more than 20 years to deliver leadership programs to high school students.

• Building on the successes of the Mobile Crisis Team, or MCT, funded by alcohol tax revenues in 2021, 2022 funds were directed to increase the MCT to 24/7 service.

• In 2022, alcohol tax revenue continues to play a vital role in the Anchorage community’s response to the ongoing homelessness crisis, including funding to the Sockeye Complex Care Center managed by Catholic Social Services and contributions to the Navigation Center project.


Nevertheless, for every successful program funded by the alcohol tax, there is money left on the table, limiting real impact and our community’s ability to address these challenging issues and heal. The alcohol sales tax collected nearly $14 million in 2021, yet only $5.2 million was spent that year across all three areas. The tax is projected to collect more than $15.4 million in 2022; as of July 31, only $3.6 million had been spent, with another $2.4 million reserved for programs in progress. Each year, the majority of the funds have been allocated to solutions. Yet, as the needs and challenges of our community continue to grow, our investment in solutions is hampered. Why isn’t the funding going out the door?

Over the past two years, the distribution of alcohol tax revenue into the community for preventing child maltreatment, sexual assault, and domestic violence has been managed by the municipality through grants. This summer, we distributed a survey to 200 individuals engaged in local prevention work to provide insights as potential grantees. We asked whether the system is working and accessible, whether funds are going out in a timely manner, and what the application process has been like.

With more than 50 responses, we identified three main problems with how funding was administered this year:

• After the first call for proposals resulted in all applications getting denied, the revised call for proposals was issued mid-year, with the requirement that programs spend awarded funds by the end of the calendar year — in about four months.

• The revised call for proposals was not effectively circulated throughout the community, heightening concerns about lack of trust and transparency. More than one-third of respondents weren’t aware of the opportunity.

• 60% of organizations that responded did not receive funding in 2022 because their programs did not qualify, despite doing prevention work in the community.

Across all three pillars of the alcohol tax program, prevention programs will require years of sustained investment to see meaningful progress toward addressing the most pressing community issues in Anchorage. That means strengthening trust in relationships with partners, establishing confidence that funding will be available year after year, and committing to equitable, transparent processes.

The municipality is starting improvements on the right foot; as we understand it, there are plans in place to onboard a contractor to support grant administration in 2023. Beyond this change, the Anchorage Theory of Positive Change Coalition calls upon Anchorage leaders to consider:

• How will the public know the alcohol tax is being invested as voters intended?

• How is the Theory of Positive Change being used to ensure tax revenue is directed to those in our community who need it most?

• How is the distribution of these funds tied to a greater city plan?

• How is the public invited to have a seat at the table?

The decision to dedicate a new revenue stream to our community’s most vulnerable sent a clear message — Anchorage is ready for a preventative, proactive approach to improving the quality of life in our city. We can’t afford to stand in our own way.

Tiffany Hall serves as executive director for Recover Alaska, a nonprofit that works with partners around the state to reduce excessive alcohol use and harm.

Celeste Hodge Growden is president and CEO of the Alaska Black Caucus, a nonpartisan organization whose focus is to assert the constitutional rights of African Americans.

Trevor Storrs is president and CEO of the Alaska Children’s Trust, or ACT, the leading statewide agency addressing the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

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