Celebrating Community Investment in Harm Prevention

Through Tiffany Hall, Celeste Hodge Growden and Trevor Storrs

Updated: September 26, 2021 Posted: September 26, 2021

In April 2020, the people of Anchorage took a bold step to reimagine the future of our city. Voters not only supported a tax on liquor sales, but a tax that makes clear investments in early intervention types of prevention. In February, this new tax came into effect.

You may have noticed the 5% tax on your receipt when buying a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beers. Maybe not. After all, it’s a small sum: only 25 cents on a $5 drink. Although the individual increase is modest, collectively it has already had a huge impact. Together, these neighborhoods have totaled more than $11 million in direct investments in the health, safety and well-being of our community.

Often a new tax is seen as another way to grow government, not as a tool to build a thriving community. However, Anchorage’s new liquor tax is very different. When voters approved the tax in April 2020, they also ordered it to fund three main areas: public safety; preventing child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence; and preventing and treating substance abuse and mental health. The purpose of these funds was not just to “feed the line”, but to find ways to “shorten the line”. We are shortening the line by addressing the root causes of these societal problems, rather than continuing to fund only emergency response.

A key priority is funding programs that focus on children, youth and families to improve outcomes for our future generations. In the first year, Anchorage residents invested $11 million to make a positive difference in our community. Here are some examples of this investment, but not limited to:

  • More than $1.5 million to fund the work of a mental health first responder team for people in crisis, rather than using police resources;
  • Nearly $1 million to strengthen our local criminal justice system by increasing funding for police, firefighters and prosecutors;
  • $2 million to invest in our youngest citizens by expanding pre-kindergarten for low-income families, supporting the Countdown to Kindergarten outreach program, and transportation to keep homeless children in school;
  • $2 million more for primary prevention grants to support healthy babies, children, youth and families. These grants offer a variety of services, from direct support to parents and families at risk, to training parents and service providers to learn effective and culturally relevant practices, to educating adolescents about behaviors and relationships healthy;
  • Nearly $100,000 was used to establish Anchorage’s first Equity and Justice Office, created in 2020 to focus on how the municipality can serve all residents and support employees more equitably; and
  • Nearly $4 million to support programs addressing mental health, addictions and homelessness, including camp reductions, overnight shelters and treatment centers.

As residents of Anchorage, we are so proud that our neighbors are taking a stand and saying we are no longer just going to hope for the best. We will take action and ensure that our community moves in the right direction. The problems we are trying to solve did not arise overnight and will not be solved overnight. However, by making our first-ever real investment in upstream primary prevention, we are beginning the process of shortening the line and building a desirable community that individuals and businesses want to call home. We know this tax alone isn’t enough to solve all the problems Anchorage is facing, but it’s a good start.

Thank you, Anchorage, for your vision and persistence in ensuring our community thrives. Together, we are creating a safer, smarter and more prosperous place to live.

Tiffany Room is executive director of Recover Alaska, a nonprofit that works with partners across the state to reduce excessive alcohol use and harm.

Celeste Hodge Growden is president and CEO of the Alaska Black Caucus, a nonpartisan organization whose goal is to assert the constitutional rights of African Americans.

Trevor Storr is President and CEO of Alaska Children’s Trust, or ACT, the state’s lead agency for the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

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Jill E. Washington