No Immediate Relief for Rural Alaska

Federal relief for Western Alaska residents is not on the way anytime soon.

More than two months after receiving news of the economic turmoil in Yukon river fisheries, the federal government has still not made any decision – for or against — the state’s request that an economic disaster be declared for communities in Western Alaska. Governor Parnell made the request under the Magnuson-Stevens Act in early August. He sent a second request for a federal response in a letter to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke last week. He says the state’s staff in Washington D-C has made certain that the Obama administration has all the information needed for a decision.

It shouldn’t take two requests from a governor for a decision from the federal government. But it really is in their court at the moment.

In the October seventh letter, Parnell updates the original information he used to request help. He explains that “no directed commercial Chinook salmon fishing was allowed in that part of Alaska” this year, adding that “subsistence fishing opportunity was limited with closures as the first pulse of Chinook moved upriver and was limited with closures during the rest of the run.”   The letter says that the Chum fishery was low – enough for a subsistence harvest, but restricted commercial openings provided little cash.

Parnell says he’s working to get the declaration to avoid the problems of last year – with people making those “food or fuel” decisions in their daily lives. He says his administration has put extra effort into making certain that fuel is available in rural communities. But he recognizes that having fuel in the communities does not relieve the pressure on the person who needs money to buy it. For that, he’s making sure that people are aware of state options that are open to them now.

There certainly are cash assistance programs within Health and Social Services for people with individual needs. And those programs are available. But the bottom line is that we need the federal money to come in and help those individuals.

However, the federal declaration is not likely anytime soon. Shannon Gilson, spokesperson for the U-S Commerce Department, says the request was given to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to review. She says typically it takes between six and eight months before a determination is made.

Meanwhile, it’s already freezing on the coast. The low temperature this morning (Friday) in Unalakleet was twenty three degrees – with highs temperatures predicted in the mid-twenties next week.


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