Anchorage Assembly is exploring how to best use next round of COVID relief funds

The Anchorage Assembly is hosting a series of work sessions with organizations and individuals who received COVID-19 relief funding assistance, or American Resc
Published: Mar. 10, 2022 at 6:42 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly is hosting a series of work sessions with organizations and individuals who received COVID-19 relief funding assistance, or American Rescue Plan Act funds through assembly appropriations in 2021.

The Municipality of Anchorage is expecting more than $50 million in the next round of American Rescue Plan Act funds that are coming this spring. With these work sessions, the assembly wants to examine how past funds were used, and how future funds can be best utilized for residents.

At the beginning of Thursday’s work session, assembly members took a tour of the new cold storage facility unit at the Food Bank of Alaska, which was funded by federal relief funds.

“That’s what we really wanted to strive for, to be able to be to respond when there’s donations, large donations. We don’t want to ever turn it down. The 100,000 pounds of salmon that I mentioned. We would have had to say no,” said Food Bank of Alaska CEO Jim Baldwin.

Assembly member Forrest Dunbar said he was excited to hear from the food bank how many families benefited from the new cold storage unit.

The meeting focused on food security, housing, and urgent needs. Assembly members heard presentations from the food bank, child care agency Thread, Camp Fire Alaska, Hillcrest Children’s Center, and Covenant House Alaska.

“The ARPA funds have been really critical in helping respond to the pandemic and create a better model and framework to serve all young people experiencing homelessness,” Covenant House Development Consultant Jason Hahn said.

Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said the work sessions will help the assembly learn more about how past funds were used and impacted residents

“I want to see the impacts of the investments that we made and how they have changed lives,” said Constant. “Because these dollars have in fact bridged great chasms to keep businesses like childcare and youth homeless shelters open and have done an amazing service in ensuring food security for all Alaskans.”

They also want to use the sessions to explore how to expand on successful projects with the next round of COVID-19 relief funds.

“I have heard from a lot of organizations, ‘Yes, we would like more money.’ But that’s not the approach we need to take. The approach we need to take is let’s do a community assessment, an assessment of the values of the people who have to make the decisions, and then look to the projects and the community,” Constant said.

Dunbar said the programs that got money to folks that needed it, to businesses that needed it, with as little red tape as possible are some of the programs he would like to see renewed.

“The permit fee holiday to help get more affordable housing built is one I definitely support, Dunbar said.

Some would also like to know what oversight is in place to make sure funds are being used responsibly. On Thursday the U.S. Justice Department reported more than $8 billion in alleged fraud tied to federal coronavirus aid programs

“If you have ever tried to receive a grant from the municipality, it’s more challenging than receiving a grant from the state or the federal government,” Constant said. “Our procurement teams are experts, and so I am pretty confident that the work that has been done to ensure fidelity to the grant requirements and to the federal funding requirements is spot on, and so we have yet to hear of any examples of such troubles here in this town.”

Dunbar added part of the reason for the work sessions is to create transparency and show residents the ARPA money was spent responsibly.

“Showing people where it went to. What concrete organizations needed these funds, and how they used them,” Dunbar said.

The first session involved tourism industry leaders and their forecasts for the summer 2022 season. The next one on March 18 will focus on Economic Development with presentations from the Restaurant Rescue Meals program, Anchorage Community Land Trust Set Up Shop, and the Business Boutique.

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