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Assembly to vote on framework for $156 million in CARES funds

The proposed plan would send funds to several buckets, including $20 million in rent/mortgage assistance
(KTUU)
Published: Aug. 9, 2020 at 9:11 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - On August 11, the Anchorage Assembly is set to vote on a proposed plan allocating the $156 million in CARES Act funds the Municipality of Anchorage received from the state. So far, roughly $30 million of those funds have already been allocated. This plan lays out what the Assembly would like to do with the rest.

“We are basically giving instruction to the administration, ‘move forward with all of these different projects,’” said Assembly Chair and midtown representative Felix Rivera.

The plan would send funding in several different directions. $20 million would go towards a mortgage and rental assistance program that would also connect renters and landlords with legal services to help navigate housing during the pandemic. Other large items include $21 million for a first responder payroll reserve, a $16.4 million contingency fund, and $12.5 million to go towards a proposed ordinance to purchase four buildings around Anchorage for homeless and addiction treatment services. That ordinance would still need to pass for the purchase to move forward.

“I think it’s important that we take housing, and childcare, and small business grants, and look at them together,” said East Anchorage Assembly Member Forrest Dunbar. “All of them are intimately related to the economy and to the set of circumstances we find ourselves in right now this Summer.”

The plan proposed adding $7 million in relief for businesses in the tourism and hospitality industries, which was passed ahead of the main plan in a special assembly meeting Friday, bringing the total amount of aid for small businesses to $13 million so far. At that meeting, several people who spoke during audience participation, and some Assembly members, indicated they’d like to see more money headed in that direction. Part of that comes from issues with the state’s $290 million small business relief program which has been slow to distribute funds because of tight restrictions on who is eligible.

“[$13 million] totally pales in comparison to what the state could and should have done with their $290 million that we’re still hoping will come into the Anchorage and Alaska economy,” Dunbar said.

Rivera also expressed frustration with congress’s failure to pass another COVId-19 relief bill.

Eagle River-Chugiak Assembly Member Crystal Kennedy is one of the members pushing for more direct aid for small businesses. She acknowledged the difficulties businesses are having navigating the state’s program, but argued that isn’t the only reason Anchorage businesses are suffering.

“Anchorage has got to take responsibility for what Anchorage has done,” she said. “And so with the most recent emergency orders, to a certain extent, we’re kind of shooting ourselves in the foot.”

At the special meeting Friday, South Anchorage Assembly Member Suzanne LaFrance announced she had intended to amend the tourism and hospitality aid to $10 million, but decided to wait until the discussion of the full plan on Tuesday. She said she was hopeful the state program would be fixed soon, but saw that the Assembly could help faster.

“At a certain point, you have to just address the biggest needs of your own community and do what you can,” she said.

The public will have a chance to comment before the Assembly amends and ultimately votes on the proposed framework. As for what it will look like on the other side of the debate, Rivera and other assembly members couldn’t say.

“I guess we’re going to see on Tuesday where the votes go,” he said.

Because of current emergency orders, the public will be unable to enter the Assembly chambers, but the meeting can be watched here, and you can submit written testimony or request to be called for testimony by emailing Testimony@anchorageak.gov.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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