Politics

Dunleavy signs first bill, sending millions to Alaska earthquake reconstruction effort

JUNEAU — Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Friday signed his first bill into law: A $150.3 million aid package for earthquake recovery and wildfire fighting. The money will pay for rebuilding roads, reconstruction of public facilities, and aid to individuals in response to the Nov. 30 earthquake.

Nine million dollars had already been allocated; the new bill increases that by $141.3 million. The measure passed the House and Senate unanimously. Lawmakers moved quickly to pass the legislation after they were told the state’s disaster relief fund would run out of money at the start of April.

According to figures provided by the governor’s office, the bill includes $73.5 million ($65 million federal and $8.5 million state) for the Alaska Department of Transportation; $58.9 million ($37 million federal and $21.9 million state) for the disaster relief fund; $7.9 million in state dollars to the Department of Natural Resources to fight wildfires; and $1 million in state money to the Department of Labor for disaster unemployment assistance benefit payments.

The DOT funding will pay for permanent repairs to highways and state-owned buildings damaged during the earthquake. The money that goes into the disaster relief fund will be used for a variety of purposes, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Local governments, utilities and some nonprofits can apply for money through the public assistance fund, which is paid out of the disaster relief fund. The relief fund can also pay for some of the costs of administering disaster aid.

The relief fund can be used for individual aid payments to Alaskans, Zidek said, but in order to be eligible for those payments, Alaskans need to first apply for aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration. Anyone who has applied for state aid already — Zidek said 14,000 applications have been received — must apply for reconsideration and show that they have attempted to get aid from the federal government, Zidek said.

[For some Alaskans struggling with earthquake losses, recovery aid falls short of expectations]

The bill was signed at the State Emergency Operations Center at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson alongside Department of Military and Veterans Affairs Commissioner Brig Gen. Torrence Saxe, Department of Transportation Commissioner John MacKinnon and other members of the state emergency response team, according to a statement from the governor’s office.

The disaster-response bill is not expected to be the last word on the cost of the Nov. 30 Southcentral Alaska earthquake. The spring thaw is expected to reveal additional earthquake damage, and members of the House and Senate said they expect to receive additional spending requests.

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