Articles written by Claire Stremple


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  • State hit with class-action lawsuit over Medicaid delays

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|Jun 12, 2024

    On a life-flight from Fairbanks to Anchorage, Sierra Ott’s newborn son Liam would not stop bleeding from a routine needle prick. Doctors in the Anchorage neonatal intensive care unit diagnosed him with a blood clotting disorder. Without medication, he is at risk of extreme joint pain and even bleeding out from what would not normally be serious injuries. Ott said that without health insurance from her husband’s military service, the pills would cost the family about $8,000 a month. At the urging of her case worker, Ott applied for Medicaid for...

  • Alaska lawmakers support federal investigation into Native boarding schools

    Claire Stremple, Wrangell Sentinel|May 29, 2024

    Alaska lawmakers have overwhelmingly voted to support a federal proposal that would investigate and document the forced assimilation of American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian children in government-funded boarding schools. The legislative resolution acknowledges the trauma Indian boarding schools inflicted on Indigenous communities in Alaska and across the country, said the bill’s sponsor, Bethel Rep. CJ McCormick. There were more than 100 government-funded, church-run Alaska Native boarding schools in Alaska from the late 1800s t...

  • Alaska legislation would eliminate co-pay for birth control

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|May 29, 2024

    Lawmakers have sent to the governor legislation that would increase insurance coverage for birth control. A large bipartisan majority of the Senate approved the measure on May 9. Alaskans may access up to 12 months of contraceptives at a time and without a co-pay from pharmacies in the state if Gov. Mike Dunleavy signs the bill into law. The House approved Senate amendments to the bill on May 10. House Bill 17 requires health insurance companies to cover contraceptives without a co-payment and to retroactively cover existing prescriptions when...

  • Legislature approves more support for missing and murdered Indigenous cases

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|May 29, 2024

    State lawmakers have added protections to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people in Alaska, a move celebrated by activists who have devoted years to a campaign for equity. Senate Bill 151 passed with a combined 57-1 vote earlier this month. Under the new law, the state must employ two full-time, dedicated investigators to pursue cold cases and must include cultural training in police officer training. It also establishes a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Review Commission and requires that state public safety...

  • Legislature votes to raise income limit for food stamps

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|May 22, 2024

    More Alaskans will be able to access food stamps following lawmakers’ vote to raise the income limit to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The change comes after more than a year of extreme delays in food stamp distribution across the state that left thousands of vulnerable Alaskans without aid for months at a time, driving many into debt and inundating food pantries with food insecure families. State workers caught up on the backlog in March. Alaska will join 42 other states in using an approach called “broad-based cat...

  • Legislators bolster Alaska Native languages council

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|May 15, 2024

    Lawmakers have added four Alaska Native languages to the state’s official language tally and renamed the council that advocates for their survival and revitalization. Members of the Senate approved their version of House Bill 26 with a unanimous vote on May 6. State representatives concurred with the changes on May 10, which means it goes to Gov. Mike Dunleavy next. The House passed the original bill, sponsored by Juneau Rep. Andi Story, last year with a 37-1 vote. Wasilla Republican Rep. David Eastman was the lone no vote. In addition to a...

  • Advisory council report warns Native languages at risk

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|May 8, 2024

    Before an advanced Tlingít language class, Raven Svenson and her classmate discussed how to conjugate the verb "boil" in the context of cooking. The University of Alaska Southeast class in Juneau was headed into finals last week and students were preparing for dialogues that will test their conversational skills. Professor X̱'unei Lance Twitchell walked in and suggested the specific verb for cooking meat by boiling. He answered a few questions in English, then switched to Tlingít as he st...

  • Legislators, governor wait for next court decision in lawsuit over correspondence funds

    Claire Stremple and James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Apr 24, 2024

    State legislators said they are unlikely to immediately act to address an Alaska Superior Court ruling that struck down key components of the state’s correspondence schools programs — and will wait for the Alaska Supreme Court to consider the issue. Speaking to reporters on April 17, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said his administration is also waiting for the high court to take up the issue. The ruling said the state’s cash payments to the parents of homeschooled students violates constitutional restrictions against spending state money on private and r...

  • Court strikes down state money for homeschooled students

    Claire Stremple and James Brooks|Apr 17, 2024

    An Anchorage Superior Court judge has struck down an Alaska law that allows the state to allocate cash payments to parents of homeschooled students, ruling that it violates constitutional prohibitions against spending state money on religious or private education. “This court finds that there is no workable way to construe the statutes to allow only constitutional spending,” wrote Judge Adolf Zeman, concluding that the entire law must be struck down. The April 12 decision has major and immediate implications for the more than 22,000 students en...

  • Governor wants to criminalize unpermitted street protests

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|Mar 27, 2024

    Opponents of Gov. Mike Dunleavey’s proposal to criminalize unpermitted street protests and other activities that block passage through public places said it is unconstitutional, too vague and too broad to become law. If Senate Bill 255 or its companion, House Bill 386, is passed into law, certain types of protest could be counted among the state’s most serious crimes. Dunleavy has said the bill is aimed at increasing public safety. It would impose penalties for blocking highways, airport runways and other public places if it causes sig...

  • Governor believes teacher bonuses, charter schools are the answers

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|Mar 20, 2024

    South Anchorage high school teacher Logan Pitney said his colleagues are making exit strategies to flee their bad financial prospects in Alaska. He called Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s teacher retention bonus plan a “Band-Aid on an arterial bleed.” Juneau Superintendent Franks Hauser called the governor’s charter school policy change proposal a “statewide solution without a statewide problem.” They were among dozens of teachers and school administrators who rejected Dunleavy’s education policy proposals at recent legislative hearings in Juneau. There’s...

  • State finally caught up on food stamp applications

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|Mar 20, 2024

    The Alaska Division of Public Assistance said March 5 it has caught up on food stamp applications. That means no Alaskan is waiting an unlawful amount of time for food aid for the first time since 2022. But there are people waiting for other benefits programs, including heating assistance. The state Division of Public Assistance worked to eliminate its most recent backlog of more than 12,000 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program applications in about four months, after struggling to stay current on applications for more than a year....

  • Legislature wants to direct more money to assist crime victims

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|Mar 13, 2024

    Money in a state account that grew out of efforts to aid victims of violent crimes has been going predominantly to the Department of Corrections instead, to cover inmate health care. Meanwhile, the state’s victim services programs are scrambling for money as a major federal funding source diminishes. An Anchorage legislator wants to correct what she sees as an imbalance. Of the $25 million in the state’s Restorative Justice Account, nearly $20 million went to the Department of Corrections. Only about $500,000 went to nonprofits that serve crime...

  • Governor threatens veto of school funding increase

    Claire Stremple and James Brooks, Alaska Beacon|Feb 28, 2024

    Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued an ultimatum to state legislators on Tuesday, saying he will veto a multipart education funding bill unless lawmakers pass separate legislation that contains his education priorities. Speaking from his office in Anchorage, the governor said lawmakers have two weeks to reconsider his proposals for the state to fund teacher bonuses and also set up a path through the state for new charter schools to bypass the local approval process, two items that were voted down during legislative debates over the education bill. If...

  • State almost clear of backlogged food stamp applications

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|Feb 28, 2024

    As of last week, the backlog of Alaskans waiting for the state to process their food stamp applications was down to just over 500 — a big improvement over the 14,000 unresolved applications of a year ago. The state’s Division of Public Assistance is on track to be up to date by the end of the month, said Deb Etheridge, division director. In an interview, Etheridge described how the state is balancing the need to comply with federal regulations — Alaska has been warned it’s at risk of losing federal funding for failing to comply — with getting f...

  • Head of troopers says state lacking in rural communities

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|Feb 21, 2024

    Alaska Department of Public Safety Commissioner James Cockrell told lawmakers on Feb. 6 that he doesn’t know how the state can justify the relative lack of resources it has provided to rural Alaska. “Since statehood, the state has followed a false pass on how we provide law enforcement services around this state,” he said. “We certainly have disproportionate resources in rural Alaska. And it’s shameful.” As bills to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people in Alaska move through the legislative process, the state is re...

  • School funding supporters continue work in state Capitol

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|Feb 14, 2024

    Supporters of education funding crowded a legislative committee room on Feb. 5, advocating for a permanent increase in the state funding formula for public schools. Though the advocates were unified in their message to a joint meeting of House and Senate education committees, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Education Commissioner Deena Bishop don’t support a permanent increase to the school funding formula. Instead, they have proposed targeted investments in certain areas, such as charter schools. Education administrators from across the state attempted...

  • Alaska courts still dealing with backlog of cases from COVID shutdown

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|Feb 14, 2024

    Alaska’s courts have had a backlog of cases since courts shut down for months during the COVID-19 pandemic. The backlog has persisted, in part because of attorney shortages. The court typically carries many pending cases, but the number of pending cases is currently 27% higher for felonies and about 13% higher for misdemeanors than it was in 2019, pre-COVID. “The overall numbers are going down, which is what we want to see,” said Stacey Marz, the Alaska State Court System’s administrative director. “We want to see fewer cases that are pendi...

  • State troopers, other agencies struggle under high vacancy rates

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|Feb 14, 2024

    To keep Alaska communities safe and workloads manageable, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jim Cockrell said he would need 35% more state troopers than he has now. After he fills the 62 vacancies in the department, he wants to ask for about 90 more positions. But he said things used to be worse — at one point last year the department had 70 vacancies of 411 trooper positions. “The bottom line is we’re making steady progress,” he said. “We’ve made some huge steps forward between the administration and the Legislature.” The Department of...

  • Alaska back at risk of losing federal money for food stamp program

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|Feb 7, 2024

    Alaska’s Department of Health risks losing federal funding for its food stamp program, warned a letter from the United States Department of Agriculture on Jan. 30. It said the department is out of compliance with federal standards for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) due to what the letter described as “inefficient and ineffective administration.” The Department of Health has struggled to manage a backlog of crisis proportions that began in 2022 and has left tens of thousands of Alaskans waiting months for critical food...

  • Quakers' reparations help fund start of Native healing center near Kake

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|Jan 31, 2024

    An unused U.S. Forest Service building in Kake may soon be a healing center for the community to move forward from generations of trauma after a boarding school harmed members of the Alaska Native population. When Joel Jackson, president of the Organized Village of Kake, saw the building on an access road outside of Kake, he said he was surprised. "A cultural healing center has been on my mind for decades," he said. "I said to myself, 'Hey, there's our cultural healing center.'" Now, with...

  • State council says no to hiring prison guards at 18

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|Jan 3, 2024

    The Alaska Police Standards Council has voted down a regulation change that would have allowed the state to hire corrections officers as young as 18 years old — the current minimum age is 21. The Department of Corrections floated the proposal as a tool to combat its staff shortage, insufficient applicant pool and high vacancy rate. In September, the department reported more than 100 open positions for prison officers and a 30% decrease in applications compared to the previous year. Most members of the council wanted to accept the new r...

  • State works to clear backlog of delayed food stamp applications

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|Jan 3, 2024

    The Alaska Division of Public Assistance processed more than 2,000 food stamp applications over eight days in mid-December as it works to clear a backlog that has kept thousands of Alaskans waiting for benefits. Earlier in December, food aid was delayed by more than a month for over 12,000 Alaskans. That number was down to about 10,000 before Christmas. Division Director Deb Etheridge said the week before Christmas that her employees are on track to clear the backlog in 90 days. Etheridge said after the Christmas holiday she will reevaluate...

  • State domestic violence services running short of federal funding

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|Dec 20, 2023

    A major source of funding for Alaska’s domestic violence response has decreased significantly the past five years, leaving a multimillion-dollar hole in the budget for services. That reduction, paired with the end of federal pandemic relief money and high rates of inflation, has domestic violence advocates scrambling to adequately fund the groups that keep one of the state’s most vulnerable populations safe. Alaska’s Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, the group that manages state and federal funding for domestic violence progr...

  • Advocates say more funding needed to stop cycle of domestic violence

    Claire Stremple, Alaska Beacon|Dec 20, 2023

    When Kara Carlson experienced sexual assault as a teenager, she said it was traumatic but not shocking: “I was the last of my friends to experience sexual violence,” she said. “We live in this world where you have to prepare women for surviving trauma.” She now runs the women’s emergency shelter in Fairbanks, the Interior Alaska Center for Non-Violent Living, where she has worked for nearly two decades. She has seen domestic and sexual violence affect generations of Alaskans. “I’ve been here long enough that I’ve seen moms come in, I’ve seen th...

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