Assembly passes resolution on remaining CARES Act allocations
Meeting continued to Wednesday after Anchorage Assembly timed out the evening before
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Priority areas for allocation of COVID-19 relief funds were under consideration Wednesday at a continued meeting at the Anchorage Assembly chambers, with the resolution eventually passing late in the evening.
Public testimony Tuesday night on CARES Act funding timed out at midnight and was continued to Wednesday evening after the Assembly passed a controversial plan to allow the purchase of several buildings, primarily for homeless services.
Aside from taking a bit more public testimony – at least ten people were waiting on the phone at the beginning of the gathering – Assembly Chair Felix Rivera said in an email Wednesday that the continued meeting would address any changes needed and specifically clarify that expenses must be allowable by the U.S. Department of Treasury.
The Municipality of Anchorage received $156 million in federal funding to help ease the impacts of COVID-19 in local communities. The proposal divides the money into sections, including $16,130,000 for economic stimulus; $15,250,000 for family support; $38,000,000 for housing and homelessness; $28,250,000 for public safety; $5,760,000 for community investments; and $29,598,566 to go toward the municipal response.
The resolution itself passed with several amendments as well. One of those included reserving $49,000 for the Assembly to retain consultant services to advise on the various options for the Mental Health First Responders Program, while another sought the gathering of socioeconomic data on the recipients of relief funds to the extent permitted by law. A couple of the amendments themselves also had adjustments.
CARES Act funding must be allocated by Dec. 30 or the monies will go unused. To use the second round of funding, the first round must be allocated; to use the third round of funding, the second round must be used.
First to testify Wednesday on where the money should go was Chris Wilson, owner of the Girdwood Subway, who pushed for assistance for the hospitality industry as a whole.
“The hospitality industry is the driving force in Anchorage’s economy,” Wilson said. “We provide jobs and find careers for thousands of people, and play a vital role in our economy.
“Our industry more than any other industry has suffered the most, in terms of sales and job loses,” he added. “‘Table for one’ has fast become, ‘Table for none,’ at least in August.”
The next few people after Wilson also pushed for more support for business owners, particularly in the hospitality industry. As the proposal stands, about $7 million is currently allocated for small business stabilization, including businesses in the tourism and hospitality sectors.
“That number needs to be tripled,” said Sarah Oates of the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association, referring to the allocation for tourism and hospitality businesses. “Without additional support from you today, you are turning your back on Anchorage business owners and the thousands of people they employ. This industry has had to make a sacrifice to make sure other businesses stay open.”
Also requested Wednesday were more monies for healthcare services, with a former registered nurse in Girdwood asking for help with a local clinic.
Ruth Schoenleben, president of Nine Star Education & Employment Services, testified in favor of more funding for addressing homelessness by providing help with employment and learning resources in Anchorage.
“Right now, there are a lot of people who are unemployed or underemployed,” Schoenleben said. “We know the economy is bad, but we also know employers have a need.”
Another business owner said he wants relief specifically for restaurants as they figure out how to work around local emergency orders.
“I’m trying to figure out the difference between tents and the way my dining room is structured,” said Jack Lewis. “I believe the restaurants and tourism need a little more help. One more challenge here - but we’re going to need some more money.”
Others complained that some of the proposed allocations for funding are not appropriate uses of CARES Act monies.
“A lot of us are left scratching our heads, trying to figure out how some of those are at least even legal,” said P.J. Gialopsos, owner of Little Italy in South Anchorage. “The blatant disregard for some of these businesses is so disheartening for us. These are tax dollars. You are serving this community. Please think carefully about what you’re doing and how you’re impacting an entire community.”
Rivera said right before the vote eventually passing the resolution that it was “likely one of the most important votes [he’ll] make on this body.”
“We are in the middle of a global pandemic, and people are hurting,” he said. “No individual, no industry, no sector is immune to the impacts this pandemic has caused.”
The use of force policy with the Anchorage Police Department was also on the agenda for Wednesday.
The replay of the meeting can be viewed on the Municipality of Anchorage website.
This story will be updated. Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.