Relief Is Available for Alaskan Homeowners During the Ongoing Pandemic
Homeowners and renters in Alaska who are struggling to make their monthly payments can benefit from a variety of relief efforts across the state. Alaska’s coronavirus (COVID-19) numbers remain relatively low. On June 25th, the New York Times reported only 926 cases and 10 deaths, making it the state with the third-lowest totals according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But, Alaska’s economy, which is ranked the most seasonal in the nation, continues to struggle due to coronavirus related shutdowns and restrictions.
This pause in Alaska’s economy has left homeowners and renters wondering how they’ll pay their mortgage or rent and other monthly expenses. Help is available for those who know where to look.
This program, offered by the state housing authority and run by the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC), is funded from a portion of the $1.5 billion the state received as a part of the federally run CARES Act. The CARES Act, signed into law in March, provides relief for homeowners with federally backed loans by offering qualifying homeowners the option to suspend their mortgage payments (mortgage forbearance) and avoid foreclosure (foreclosure moratoriums). The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) extended this moratorium on foreclosures and evictions until at least August 31, 2020.
The AFHC’s program is available to homeowners who have suffered financially due to COVID-19 and are now at less than 80 percent of their area’s median income. AHFC spokeswoman Stacy Barnes explains, “The area median income in Kotzebue is $62,000. So to be eligible for this program, you would need to be making in your household, no more than $49,600, post-COVID.” In larger communities, the median income is slightly higher.
Applicants are entered into a lottery system, and those chosen will receive a one-time $1,200 payment that can be used to pay the rent or their mortgage. Across the country, most CARES Act funding has been distributed on a first come first served basis, but Barnes felt a lottery system was a more equitable way to distribute the funds, especially given the heavily rural makeup of the state.
She notes, “By allowing everyone to participate over that two-week window and lotterying the names at the end everyone in Alaska who experiences hardship has an equal opportunity to receive funds.” Applications were accepted until June 26th, with plans to distribute the money in July.
In March, Senate Bill 241 passed. Part of this bill implemented moratoriums stopping the shut off of utilities. Under this bill, utility companies cannot terminate service due to missed payments as long as the state is under public health emergency.
In Anchorage, that legislation means that Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility (AWWU) and Municipal Light and Power (ML&P) will suspend utility shut-offs. However, if you can continue to pay your utility bills during the pandemic, you should because billing will continue to accrue even while shutoffs are suspended. If you are unable to make your utility payments due to COVID related financial hardships, you should contact your local provider to understand your options.
Homeowners in need of help paying their heating bills can contact the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and apply for the Heating Assistance Program (HAP). This program will assist households with income at or below the federal poverty guidelines and who meet other criteria.
On the national level, recurring $2,000 monthly stimulus checks were cut from the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES). However, year-round residents in Skagway, Alaska will be receiving what the majority of the nation will not. The Emergency Assistance and Economic Stimulus Program will provide roughly 1,100 year-round residents with monthly stimulus checks from June to December.
To receive these funds, residents will need to provide proof that they were permanently living in Skagway before June 4th. They will also need to attest to how they plan to use the funds by filling out an application and then by providing proof of payment for unpaid bills or other necessary living expenses. All payments made after March 16, 2020 (when Skagway declared a state of emergency) may qualify for payment.
While property taxes and credit card payments are not approved categories for the use of these funds, qualifying residents can put the money toward:
- Groceries and Household Needs
Alaska is offering a broad and unique range of relief programs aimed at keeping residents safely in their homes.