Anchorage Assembly approves $7 million in aid for hospitality and tourism industries

While grateful, many are concerned it won’t be enough
Published: Aug. 7, 2020 at 10:35 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly dedicated $7 million in CARES Act funds to go to a grant program for businesses in the hospitality and tourism industries at a special meeting Friday, but several public commenters and assembly members doubted that would be enough.”

“You will see that the numbers are going to be so large, that $7 million is not going to make a dent,” said public commenter Alex Perez at the meeting.

The money goes on top of $6 million already dedicated to a small business grant program, but how to expand that past its pilot version, and how to get this new money out, is still being determined.

“The rollout or the methodology for distributing grants is definitely something that’s still being discussed between the various entities and parties that we’ve been engaged with,” said Municipal Director of Economic and Community Development Chris Schutte.

Meanwhile, assistance from the state is difficult to obtain. Under current rules, any business that receives a federal loan worth more than $5,000 is ineligible for state grants, and some worried Friday that won't change any time soon.

“We think that by the time the state will come back together to possibly change these qualifications, it may be too late for numerous businesses in Anchorage,” said public commenter Lee Ellis.

The state’s small business grant program is still distributing funds, albeit slowly. As of Thursday, the state had paid out to 510 applications, totaling just over $20 million from the $290 million total in the program.

Several Assembly members Friday expressed frustration with the strict requirements and slow rate at which the state is distributing those funds.

“It’s incredibly frustrating to represent individuals whose businesses are falling apart and be able to say ‘I’m sorry we don’t have enough money,’” said Assembly Vice-Chair Austin Quinn-Davidson. “And as busy as we’re working, we can’t get access to that state money that’s just sitting there.”

Now, industry leaders are calling for more aid. In a statement Friday, Sarah Oates, president of the Alaska Cabaret Hotel Restaurant, and Retailers association wrote “federal aid to the businesses and employees has been exhausted for weeks or months, most businesses don’t qualify for AK CARES, and local assistance to the hospitality industry through cares act funds has been nearly nonexistent to date. While the $7MM allocated to all tourism is a first step, it’s nowhere near enough funds to keep many businesses from going under.”

Oates went on to propose the assembly allocate $21 million in CARES funds to businesses directly impacted by the latest emergency order. That proposal isn't currently in the proposed CARES money framework that the Assembly will be discussing on August 11, though some members expressed interest in increasing the 7 million.

“I believe 7 million is way inadequate,” said Assembly member Suzanne LaFrance, representing South Anchorage.

The assembly will take public comment and begin debate on the remaining CARES framework at their meeting on August 11.

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