APRN Alaska News

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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 57 min 43 sec ago

US Senate Is Close To Saving A St. Mary’s Man Cabin

Thu, 2014-01-02 11:19

A St. Mary’s man is one step closer to saving his cabin. William Alstrom’s small cabin is located on the Andreafsky Wilderness in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, about 31 miles northwest of St. Mary’s.

According to the BLM, that’s illegal and the government said the cabin needed to go.

The struggle over the small cabin has found its way to the US Senate, where an exception to save the cabin recently passed out of the energy committee with a push by Senator Lisa Murkowski.

“Basically it’s the government’s failure, it’s the government’s mistake and they’ve acknowledged that. But basically the only solution they had was to tell this Alaskan family from St. Mary’s that you’re going to either have to demolish the cabin or you’re going to have to move it,” said Murkowski.

The agency didn’t know about the wilderness that when they granted the allotment in 2008. They came back in 2011 to say that the plot was cancelled. By that time, Alstrom had built a small subsistence cabin and appealed the decision. Alstrom got in contact with Murkowski last month and began working for a legislative solution. She drafted an amendment, which passed the committee. Murkowski thanked the lawmakers for being willing to make an exception for Alstrom.

“Very small deal, but for one family, they know the government is actually working with them rather than acknowledging they made a mistake and saying well, sorry there’s not much we can do. I just appreciate the willingness of colleagues at these smaller issues we deal with,” said Murkowski.

Alstrom served in the Air Force in Vietnam. He applied for the allotment as Alaska Native veterans’ allotment. He said he does not want to comment until the issue is finalized.

The amendment was attached to the Green Mountain Lookout Act, originally introduced by Washington State senators for a similar exemption. The bill heads to the full Senate floor for consideration.

Categories: Alaska News

Kookesh To Step Down As Sealaska Board Chair

Thu, 2014-01-02 11:16

Albert Kookesh is stepping down as chairman of the board of directors for Sealaska, the regional Native Corporation for Southeast Alaska.

The company also announced the deadline to apply for its president and CEO position, as Chris McNeil prepares to retire.

Albert Kookesh

Kookesh, a former state lawmaker from Angoon, has been Sealaska chairman for 14 years. He plans to remain on the board, but says he wants to cut back on work and commitments.

Kookesh suffered a heart attack last March. In a message posted to Sealaska’s website Tuesday, he said he’s back to 100 percent, but the incident put a scare in him and his family.

“I want to be here to see my grandchildren grow up,” Kookesh said in the statement.

He said he was honored to have served longer than any other board chair in Sealaska history, and wants to continue to use his relationships in the Native and non-Native communities for the benefit of Sealaska and its shareholders.

Kookesh also decided not to run for reelection as co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives last year, another position he had held for 14 years.

McNeil announced his planned retirement in October after 12 years at the helm. At the time he said he hoped to have a successor named by March and that the actual transition would be made at the corporation’s annual meeting in June.

Sealaska is accepting applications for its next president and CEO through February 28th. The company’s board of directors has hired San Francisco-based recruiting firm Egon Zehnder to help with the search.

According to another statement on Sealaska’s website, the successful candidate will be a company shareholder and reside in Juneau, where Sealaska is headquartered. McNeil lives in Washington state and works in corporate offices in Bellevue.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Waters to Brace for More Shipping

Tue, 2013-12-31 17:48

Canada’s energy board gave conditional approval earlier this month to the Northern Gateway Pipeline project, which would run through British Columbia– and would send hundreds more crude oil supertankers along high-traffic shipping lanes in Alaska waters. That means the Aleutian Islands will have to prepare for a higher risk of spills and accidents.

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Categories: Alaska News

Part II: Lt. General Russell Handy On Arctic Strategy

Tue, 2013-12-31 17:47

Lt. Gen. Russell Handy. Photo – USAF

When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel released the Pentagon’s Arctic Strategy document last month, he said rapid change in the Arctic is leading to predictions of a 10-fold increase in vessel traffic for the Northern Sea Route in the coming year. The Alaskan commander for the state’s military, Lt. General Russell Handy is tasked with coordinating and overseeing the implementation of the Arctic Strategy plan. In part two of our interview with General Handy, he says funding has not yet been determined, partially because of uncertainty over how quickly arctic climate conditions are changing.

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Lt General Russell Handy Complete Interview

Categories: Alaska News

State Encouraging More to Get Flu Shots

Tue, 2013-12-31 17:45

An effort to coax more Alaskans into getting a flu shot has prompted the State Division of Public Health to continue its fee waiver for flu vaccines. Free vaccines will be available at all state public health centers in Alaska for certain Alaskans.

State supplied vaccines are available at no charge to all children under the age of three and to anyone three and older who does not have health insurance. The free vaccines are also for people with insurance that does not cover vaccinations or if they have not yet met their deductible. The $28 fee waiver is in effect through the end of March 2014.

The state has confirmed 242 cases of the flu, mostly in the last three weeks. H1N1, commonly called swine flu, is the dominant strain this year but protection against it is included in this year’s vaccine.

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Categories: Alaska News

Sobering Center Provides Nearly 2,000 Bed Nights A Year

Tue, 2013-12-31 17:42

The Sobering Center is now in its fourth winter of operation. It provides a safe place for intoxicated people to sleep off a bad night of drinking. Since it opened, the center has expanded its hours and built relationships with the people it serves.

It takes a team to keep Bethel’s inebriates safe. Community service patrol officers pick up people who are intoxicated and incapacitated. If they don’t have a home to go back to, they are placed in title 47 protective hold for 12 hours. At the Sobering Center, that means a night on a somewhat soft rubber mat. Last year, the center provided 1,860 sleep-off nights with about 970 unique individuals. Several make repeater visits at according to Rusty Tews, the Sobering Center Program Manager for YKHC.

“We have a core of hardcore chronic users, that we see usually regularly that we see regular,” Tews said. “They have a severe addiction problem, they need more services than we provide but they don’t want them and they’re not ready to change.”

Tews said more than half of the patrons come from surrounding villages. About 40 percent are Bethel residents and the other 60 percent people from out of town. The customers are not exactly in their best state, but Tews and the staff make an effort to put people on a different path and avoid having too many repeat customers.

“When people leave here they’re hung over, a lot of them don’t want to talk, but we do offer a conversation, we provide basic health information,” Tews said.

Tews said about one in five are willing to talk about alcohol issues. Ultimately 5 to 7 percent of their contacts result in a referral to medical treatment. The center started off being open just 4 nights a week and later moved to 24/7 operation. Tews said the staff has learned to relax a little bit and meet people where they are.

“Whereas everyone was terrified when we started that drunk people are nasty, ignorant, and hard to get along with,” he said. “They’re generally just people. When they’re sober their just sober, when they’re drunk, they’re just people with a problem. We’ve learned to deal with the problems in a sympathetic and professional way and I think it shows.”

In the future, Tews said the organization and its partners are looking into how to do more with their resources and better serve patients.

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Categories: Alaska News

The Big Stories of 2013

Tue, 2013-12-31 17:41

The year that’s about to end had more than its share of drama. As we turn the page on another year of news, APRN’s Steve Heimel has a look back at some of the highlights, with his list of the top 10 news stories of 2013.

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What was big news in Alaska in some ways depended on where you were. If you were in Galena, it was flooding on the Yukon River in May. In fact, the river flooded again last fall, as a storm surge sent high waters up the river all the way to Russian Mission from the Bering Sea.

Also in the Bering Sea, the sea ice conditions were so jumbled that it was unsafe to hunt walrus, and both Gambell and Savoonga on Saint Lawrence Island declared economic disasters. And then in the fall, freezeup was so late that they were harvesting Bowhead whales in December.

If you were in Bristol Bay, you had a particular interest in one of the biggest stories of the year when mining giant Anglo American pulled its investment out of the Pebble Mine and the other big investor, Rio Tinto, gave strong signals that the public opposition was likely to persuade it to pull out as well.

You also were stunned by the death of an unarmed Village Public Safety Officer, Thomas Madole, who was shot in the line of duty responding to a person’s home in Manakotak.

And much of rural Alaska took an avid interest in a report by the bipartisan Tribal Law and Order Commission that said the state government is not capable of (centrally) maintaining law and order in villages “from an urban, centralized location” and should be working with tribal courts.

But there were some big news stories among the top ten of the year that were spread all over the state:

In Prince William Sound, two fishing tenders sank and spilled. And tenders also sank near Haines, Petersburg, and in Bristol Bay.

Governor Sean Parnell continued an anti-federal thrust that included an investigation of a federal enforcement raid on placer miners, legal action on federal stream jurisdiction, and most notably refused to expand eligibility to Medicaid, even though the federal government would pay for it, denied health care coverage to tens of thousands of Alaskans.

The oil and gas industry was heartened when the state legislature, at Governor Parnell’s urging, changed the tax regime, but opponents of that change soon gathered enough signatures to put repealing it on the ballot. And hopes for offshore oil and gas prospects in the Arctic Ocean got a major setback when Shell’s drilling rig “Kulluk” went aground while under tow.

Another big story still unfolding was the decision by major vendors not to sell Alaska salmon because it wasn’t certified for sustainability by the Marine Stewardship Council. Sedexo changed its mind, WalMart is still on the fence.

And rounding out the top ten stories was a major plane crash at the Soldotna airstrip that took the lives of ten people on their way out on a bear viewing trip. No probable cause has yet been released for that crash.

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Data Being Collect on Nushagak Bay

Tue, 2013-12-31 17:40

For the last six years the Bristol Bay Environmental Science Lab has been collecting data about Nushagak Bay. There is a lot that is known about the bay but there are still holes in the data.

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Categories: Alaska News

Firework Displays Banned in Anchorage

Tue, 2013-12-31 14:45



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There are places in Alaska where you can blow off fireworks on New Year’s Eve, but not within the city limits of Anchorage. The municipality will sponsor a fireworks display in the downtown area. City residents will face a citation and fine if they light their own fire crackers and bottle rockets. If you live in the Mat-Su Valley, you can shoot off your own fireworks from 6 pm till 1 am. Restrictions apply, including no pyrotechnics within 1,250 feet of a health care facility, school or library and not within 500 feet of any gas station or business where flammable fuels are stored.

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Categories: Alaska News

Alaska Tapped To Be UAV Test Site

Mon, 2013-12-30 18:50

A University of Alaska lead consortium has been selected by the Federal Aviation Administration to operate an unmanned aerial vehicle test center. It will be one of six centers across the country charged with helping integrate the technology into national airspace. Alaska partnered with Oregon and Hawaii on the successful proposal.

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Categories: Alaska News

Pioneering Alaska Doctor Marcell Jackson Dies

Mon, 2013-12-30 18:47

M. Marcell Jackson, one of Alaska’s first female doctors, has died at age 84.

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Jackson’s medical career dated from territorial days. During early statehood, Jackson was one of a handful of women doctors practicing in the state.

She died on Dec. 8 in Anchorage.

Jackson was born in Lewistown, Mont., in 1929. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Montana State University, moving to Alaska in 1951. She became a lab technician for Anchorage doctors, one of whom urged her to pursue a medical degree.

A service is scheduled for Jan. 19 in Anchorage.

Categories: Alaska News

Part 1: Lt. General Russell Handy On Arctic Strategy

Mon, 2013-12-30 18:47

Last month, the Department of Defense released an eight-point Arctic Strategy. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel presented the document at the Halifax international security forum in Nova Scotia. It is a military blueprint for managing the future of international shipping, territorial sovereignty, tourism and security in a rapidly changing Arctic. In the first of a two part interview, Alaska’s top military official, Lt. General Russell Handy says what stands out from the plan is how much is yet unknown.

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When you saw Hagel’s strategy, were there elements that stood out as more challenging to accomplish? Are there areas of the Alaskan Arctic that are of greater concern than others?

I think the biggest challenge is to look into our crystal ball on what our requirements will be. There’s not total agreement on the ice melt and the rate at which that is occurring or the impact that’s going to have on increased econ development in the arctic. We’re responsible to maintain an awareness of that domain and try to ensure with partnership with the international community freedom of navigation in international waterways in accordance of international norms, but how much of that is there going to be? And then how much infrastructure do you have to put there, if there’s going to be a lot of tourism in the arctic for example, well, we and state and local officials need to be ready for that. If there’s some sort of a search and rescue requirement that we over land in Alaska command or admiral Ostebo in US Coast Guard district 17 over water, we need to have thought through that in advance, so that’s the most challenging is envisioning what will the arctic look like in 20 or 25 years.

Are there elements of the Arctic strategy that will be implemented immediately?

There are, in fact there’s elements of that strategy that are ongoing right now. Which is why it was so exciting for us to offer input because it allowed us to say, that’s a great idea, let us show you what we’re already doing. So our team has been conducting many things that you sort of read between the lines in that arctic strategy for some time. We have a series of working groups, where we bring together public and private partners where we talk about activities that are ongoing. We brought everyone together and we’ve learned quite a bit, up at the UAF for example, nationally, internally recognized as a center of excellence for arctic studies. What’s going on in the corporate world up on the northern slope and we’re learning many things that we can capitalize on from a defense department perspective from the people who have been doing this for a number of years.

In fact my predecessor signed an MOU with President Gambell from the University of Alaska that outlined areas that we will partner and we have an active partnership going in everything from arctic awareness, maritime domain awareness, how you might employ remotely piloted vehicles for command and control purposes, so we’re actively partnering with them and others.

As you’re probably aware, there is a lot of controversy over unmanned arial vehicles, how could that be a way to enhance surveillance in that area?

I think there’s tremendous growth opportunity for unmanned aerial vehicles, but we have to carefully look at what, how and who is doing it. There’s a big difference between a private corp looking at their facilities, or UAF doing research or even the CG who has law enforcement authority. Big difference between that and the DOD, a title 10 activity. As you know we have legislation that protects our citizen from the military doing things that looks like civilian law enforcement.  So we have to be very careful to be sure we’re doing it for the right reasons. That said, we’re will partner with our public and private partners that we’re working with to insure we help each other, the DOD has tremendous capacity in remotely piloted vehicles, we’ve got a lot of experience with them so we can work together with them or pass on our expertise to those that will use them.

Secretary Hagel said the DOD must evolve its Arctic infrastructure at a pace with current conditions. That would seem to suggest a nearly immediate start considering how quickly the Arctic is changing and the lack of facilities there now, and where. Kotzebue? Barrow? Nome?

As I indicated earlier, Sec Hagel did say that but he also emphasized a cautionary note and that is let’s be careful and analyze where we need investment so we take taxpayer dollars that we really need when it lines up against other needs. I read in that he is going to be very careful in large scale investment. That said, we can get a lot done with a very small investment with partnering, partnering with UAF, other private organizations, our international partners. I think that’s a key area for growth. When you look at the Arctic Council and others that want to be on the Arctic council, I think that’s our center of gravity. You continue to evolve capabilities together. So to do that you need to understand what international norms are and so talking often in forums like the arctic council, is important and then working to build those capabilities. I wouldn’t say there’s a total lack of infrastructure and equipment. If you look at everything that is in place in the public and private world and with international partners, it might surprise you to know what capabilities does exist or could with a reasonable investment, in the near term to satisfy the DOD strategy. In the far term, the trick will be understanding what the arctic will look like in 2030. The DOD doesn’t build anything quickly. If we’re going to field programs we need to look in advance and build a program to be able to fund that and understand where those capabilities need to be in 2025 or 2030 will be the cornerstone to any investment strategy.

Categories: Alaska News

Preventing Language Loss: A 3-Step Process

Mon, 2013-12-30 18:47

Indigenous languages throughout North America are teetering on extinction. In Southeast Alaska, less than 200 people can speak Tlingit, Haida, or Tsimshian. But a Tlingit language expert suggests indigenous language loss can be prevented by addressing it at three levels.

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Lance Twitchell says it’s time for a dramatic shift in the way Alaskans look at endangered languages, like Tlingit. Twitchell is an assistant professor of Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast. “Sometimes we say the language is dying, we don’t have many speakers. And some of these things get so insurmountable in your mind that you don’t really know where to start,” he says.

The first place to start, Twitchell says, is at the individual level. He says it’s important to speak as much as you can on a daily basis:

“I tell students, ‘Find something that that’s the only thing you speak Tlingit to – dog, cat, steering wheel, shower head, mirror – and make that switch.’”
Since the 1800s, Alaska Natives have experienced discrimination, forced assimilation, and boarding schools that prohibited children from speaking their language. Twitchell says due to post-traumatic stress disorder and intergenerational trauma, many students of Tlingit have a fear of failing or being chastised:

“Our grandparents experienced great violence for our language, our parents experienced great neglect with our language, we are trying to look at all those things so that our children and grandchildren will just speak.”
Learning the language is an act of healing, Twitchell says. At an individual level, it’s not about changing the world, but by trying to speak a Tlingit word every day.

The next step is making a dramatic shift at the community level. One way to do this is by implementing language into place. “When I want to Hawaii, I came off the plane and the first thing I heard was Hawaiian, and I thought, ‘That’s what we need to do,’” Twitchell says. “We’re trying to put Tlingit on the ferries, so that when you get on the ferry and you’re pulling into Hoonah, you can hear Tlingit telling you about this place Xunaa.”

Twitchell says community also means surrounding yourself with other Tlingit speakers and doing everything with them, “You guys shop together, you eat together, you do a lot more things together, and it’s a challenge.”

Rebuilding an endangered Native language also requires non-speakers. Twitchell advises non-speakers to be encouraging and supportive of those trying to speak a second language.

Twitchell says it’s up to the community to make room for Tlingit through the implementation of language immersion spaces, like a Tlingit daycare or a community center where only Tlingit is spoken:

“If you want to learn French, you can go to France. If you want to learn Spanish, you can go to different countries. If you want to learn Tlingit, you have to manufacture a place where Tlingit really exists.”
The state also must be involved in the rebuilding of a language, Twitchell says. Part of this involves admission. “We see a trail of responsibility that does go to federal governments, state governments, and religious organizations as far as what has put us in this situation with our languages,” Twitchell says. “So there has to be conscious efforts made to reverse language shift.”

Linguist Alice Taff says the language resurgence in Southeast Alaska is part of a worldwide movement against language loss, “Every nation in this planet has small language communities that are standing their ground against language loss. And it’s a relatively new phenomenon that there is a pushing back from within the communities saying, ‘This is us and we are going to use our own voices.’”

Of the estimated 20,000 Tlingit people in the world, Twitchell says only 140 can speak the language. He says the dramatic shift that needs to be made at the individual, community, and state levels is not a matter of tolerating Tlingit speaking but embracing it.

Categories: Alaska News

BLM Builds Long-Term Clean Up Plan For Red Devil Mine Site

Mon, 2013-12-30 18:47

The Bureau of Land Manage is planning do a quick field season at the Red Devil mine to try to stop the large tailings piles from eroding into Red Devil Creek and sending more metals into the Kuskokwim River. But there are more than 250,000 cubic yards of contaminated ground at the site.

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Red Devil Creek runs right past the abandoned mine site, where leeched metals like mercury, arsenic, and antimony enter the water system and make their way towards the Kuskokwim. Earlier projects have plugged old mining shafts and removed barrels of chemicals, but the biggest legacy of 40 years of mercury mining is the rocks. Those continue to leech chemical into the watershed. Mike McCrum is the Red Devil Project Manager.

“We’re looking at the groundwater, we’re looking at sediments in the creek, and we’re looking at the large piles of tailings on site that were left by the mining operation. And we’re looking at those three media in different way because they each present their own set of problems,” said McCrum.

The four site wide alternatives address each of those areas of concern. The first option is to take no action. The second would involve putting an 8 foot high fence around the site to keep people and wildlife out. The third actually addresses the tailings and moves them to higher ground in an on-site repository.

“Which is sort of like a landfill, we’d prepare the ground, put them all in one place we would cover them with some sort of material that would help prevent snowmelt and rainfall from infiltrating into the pile and leaching metals,”said McCrum.

The 4th and most extensive option involves digging up the tailings and shipping all of the material to the Lower 48 for disposal in a special facility.

The BLM hopes to have the feasibility study done by next summer. It’s currently making the rounds in a multi agency in depth analysis.

“These are documents that BLM is developing with its contractor, but then it’s extensively reviewed by the EPA, by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources…,” said McCrum.

The BLM would then turn the studies into a proposed plan and bring it out for public input before the final record of decision and work could go ahead. That could still be a number of years. A link to the project website is here.

Categories: Alaska News

Slow Business, High Costs Shut Down Paxson Lodge

Mon, 2013-12-30 18:47

The Paxson Lodge is closed. The owner of the roadhouse at the junction of the Richardson and Denali highways says he shut the lodge down due to slow business and high operating costs. It’s the latest of several Richardson Highway roadhouses that have closed down in recent years.

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Categories: Alaska News

MAP Students Train For ETT

Mon, 2013-12-30 18:46

ETT instructor Ron Bowers watches as David Roehl and Kaylene Chuckwak practice emergency obstetrics on a manikin. Photo from KDLG.

Students at Dillingham’s Alternative School had the opportunity to train for an Emergency Trauma Technician certification this month. An ETT can provide basic medical care in emergency situations, and graduates in years past have not only helped save lives in their communities, but have also gone on to further careers in the medical field.

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Categories: Alaska News

Woman Dies From Cold Exposure In Anchorage

Mon, 2013-12-30 11:00

Anchorage Police say a 57-year-old woman was found dead after spending the night in a tent in Anchorage.

She was found just before 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

An initial investigation has found no foul play was involved.

Police have identified the woman as Phyllis Ayaprun.

Categories: Alaska News

Thousands of Alaskans to Lose Unemployment Benefits Saturday

Fri, 2013-12-27 17:08

About 6,500 Alaskans will see their emergency unemployment benefits come to an end on Saturday, according to the state Department of Labor.

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The federal program was enacted by Congress in 2008 at the beginning of the recession, which is still affecting the economy in certain states. In the past five and a half years, it has been extended nearly a dozen times.

The idea was to provide an additional safety net for the long term unemployed, beyond the 26 weeks of regular state unemployment benefits.

“Tiers were added to it to allow more benefits, and then it was reduced,” says Bill Kramer, chief of Unemployment Insurance for the State of Alaska.

The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development administers both the state and federal unemployment compensation programs. Kramer says people who qualify for emergency unemployment can apply to receive benefits for this week, but that will be it.

In the past when Congress allowed the program to lapse, the state was able to continue paying existing claims with money from the Emergency Unemployment Compensation fund. This time around, Kramer says that funding has not been renewed.

“The way Congress did this particular program, December 28 is the end of the program,” he says. “So even if an individual just established an emergency unemployment claim with us last week and they may have many weeks of benefits in their balance, we can only pay through this week.”

Alaska Senator Mark Begich, a Democrat, says the program should have been extended as part of the recent budget deal in Washington, D.C. Now he’ll work to renew it when Congress reconvenes in January.

“There’s no question the economy is growing, but there’s certain areas of the country that are still hurting, as well as in our own state,” Begich says.

The national unemployment rate was 5.6 percent when the program started. It topped out at 10 percent in October 2009, and now is down to 7 percent.

Begich says any bill reauthorizing emergency benefits will have to overcome a filibuster from Republicans, some of whom he says are philosophically opposed to unemployment insurance.

“I don’t get it. They complain the economy hasn’t rebounded, but then they don’t want to help with an unemployment extension. And then when people like myself say, well the economy is getting better, they say, well it’s really not as good as it could be,” Begich says. “So, there’s a lot of double speak that goes on in Washington from some of these guys who have been there way too long, and this is one of them.”

Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski says she’s open to extending the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, but wants to review a three-month extension proposed by Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed and Nevada Republican Dean Heller.

“We recognize that the unemployment numbers are coming down,” Murkowski says. “Alaska, we’re just a little bit below the national average, but in places like Nevada and Rhode Island, where the two sponsors are from, unemployment is well over 9 percent.”

Both Murkowski and Begich say the emergency program should not last forever. Republican Alaska Congressman Don Young said via email that an extension would cost $25.2 billion over the course of year, which should require offsetting budget cuts.

State Unemployment Insurance Chief Bill Kramer says the Department of Labor is encouraging people whose benefits are about to expire to take advantage of the state’s network of 22 Job Centers, as well as online employment services.

“There’s resume workshops, they can do interviewing skills, depending on certain criteria if it’s more vocational training that they need in order to bring their skills to something where they can be more employable, they might be able to help that way,” Kramer says. “There’s just a whole host of services available to try and help people get back to work.”

Kramer says the Job Centers can help individuals over the phone as well.

Alaska’s unemployment rate was 6.5 percent in November, the 61st straight month below the national average.

Categories: Alaska News

Budget Pressure Mounts On Senate Appropriations Committee

Fri, 2013-12-27 17:07

It’s quiet in the U.S. Capitol these days, but the pressure is on one groups of lawmakers – the appropriators – among them Alaska’s two senators, Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich.

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They have until Jan. 15 to complete a dozen spending bills. If they don’t, we could see another government shutdown, or, less drastically, a type of budget purgatory Congress has been resorting to what’s called a “Continuing Resolution.”

A seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee used to be quite a lofty perch.

The late Ted Stevens became one of the most powerful Alaskans to ever live by becoming chairman of that panel. It allowed him to send billions home in earmarks.

Now both Alaska senators are on the committee, but it hasn’t amounted to much. Congress has been too divided in recent years to let the appropriators do their work, and anyway it banned earmarks due to public outrage – outrage that was partially inspired by Alaska projects. Alaska Congressman Don Young says it’s been a blow to the state.

“They’re both on appropriations, but what can they do?” Young said. “They can’t really do … and without earmarks they don’t have the clout that we used to have. This is the reality of life. We are being totally ignored.”

Young says when Congress won’t exercise its full power of the purse, it’s ceding power to the executive branch.

Earmarking, or slipping special home-state projects into a spending bill, usually late in the process, did help lawmakers pass appropriation bills in years past, but critics said it
wasn’t right that a few powerful lawmakers could direct money so specifically and with so little scrutiny.

Sen. Murkowski says the recent stalemate has been frustrating. She is the top-ranking Republican on the subcommittee that writes the spending bills for the Interior Department.

“But our bill hasn’t made it to the floor for consideration since I’ve been ranking member because we’re not moving those appropriations bills forward,” Murkowski said.

She hopes we’re now seeing a return to the normal process. Congress this month did finally pass a budget resolution, which is kind of the starting gun for appropriations.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work. The president submits a thick budget to Congress in February. It’s nonbinding — just a request really. In April, lawmakers are supposed to pass a “budget resolution” – a blueprint saying how much they want to spend and how they’ll pay for it. Then the appropriation committees can get going. Committee leaders divide the money pie among 12 subcommittees, each of which crafts a spending bill. When they’re all passed, they fund government for a year. But bitter divisions have derailed the process in recent years. Instead of detailed appropriations bills, lawmakers pass resolutions to just keep the money flowing, usually at the prior year’s level. A Government Accountability Office (or GAO) report says it’s a wasteful process: Agencies are paralyzed by uncertainty, then get all their money late in the year and are in a rush to use it.

Sen. Mark Begich says spending becomes a blunt instrument without appropriations, a process that gives him and Murkowski a chance to shape the bills to meet Alaskan needs.

“We were continuing programs, through these crazy things called continuing resolutions, that did not need to be funded anymore but we were funding them because that was format,” Begich said. “Now we can appropriate strategically and surgically remove programs that are no longer efficient, not necessary anymore and do the right kind of budget balancing that’s critical.”

So the members and staff of the appropriations committees are racing the clock. To move things faster, they’re likely to roll all the bills into a big package called the omnibus. If it’s not signed into law by Jan. 15, they’ll have to pass another continuing resolution.

Categories: Alaska News

Interior Alaska Temperatures Dip To 50 Below

Fri, 2013-12-27 17:06

Interior low temperatures dipped into the 50 below range again today, as a cold snap that began Monday, deepened across the interior. Among the coldest readings this morning were minus 55 at Eagle and 54 below at Ft. Yukon. A strong inversion has kept hilltop temperatures in the 10 to 15 below range, while sinking the deepest cold into valleys. The Fairbanks bowl has also suffered from accumulated emissions.

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Categories: Alaska News

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