Sunday, July 5, 2020

Tell the Legislature: Alaskans Lose a Quarter Billion $ if Alaska CARES Grant Program Falls Short

Part of the federal disaster relief funds approved in Congress were direct grants to states to help businesses and their workers to stay afloat during the Lockdown. Alaska was budgeted $290 million.

On June 1st, grant applications opened for the $290M Alaska CARES Grant Program aimed at Alaska businesses who did not receive COVID-19 relief dollars from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) or other federal “loan” programs under CARES Act. 

As of June 29th, only $6.2M of the $290M have been awarded. There were 1,947 applicants and only 167 have been approved. That is, only 2 percent of this disaster relief has reached the businesses and non-profits in this state. 

That means a quarter-billion dollars is sitting on the table during one of the greatest financial and health disasters in our history. Oh, and we could lose it, unless the legislature calls a special session to meet in person and vote on it. They need to fix this mess soon, because the deadline for using these particular funds is drawing near. Snooze and lose? Then that big pile of money goes back to Washington DC.

What could Alaskans do with this money?

  • direct assistance to struggling businesses
  • health care support 
  • grants for purchasing safety gear and sanitizers
  • fisheries research to sustain our businesses
  • grants for promoting travel to Alaska and rebuilding the economy
  • aid to harbor districts and infrastructure

You probably have some ideas yourself. We would rather see dump trucks filled with cash spill money around the state than send a quarter billion back to DC. 

The program aimed for dispersing the majority of the grant money in the first 30 days! The PPP funds ran out in the first week. What happened here? Most businesses received some form of federal assistance already, so they didn’t qualify for these grants.

As a result, the rules put in place by the Alaska State legislature need to be fixed, and fixed fast. 

The ACA has written several letters to the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, requesting they expand the program to include all Alaska small businesses. “The PPP was for our employees and we are grateful for that, but the only businesses relief offered to cover our business losses has come in the form of loans, a debt that will have to be repaid which adds to our already negative balance sheets.”

The ACA testified at a recent Legislative Labor and Commerce Committee meeting to remove the restrictions regarding disqualification based on past federal assistance. To change any of the provisions of the CARES Grant Program, the legislature must reconvene in special session and vote. 

Non-Profit organizations such as the ACA (a trade association) are also currently excluded from applying. As a trade organization made possible through membership dues and considering the financial crisis our industry is facing, support will become more difficult. We are not the only organization in this boat, and many of the local community Chambers of Commerce are organizations with the same status. We asked that 501(c)6 non-profits be allowed to apply for this grant. Businesses that already got loans to cover worker paychecks should also be allowed to apply. 

It’s been a big weekend and now, Monday morning, we need to write, email, fax, or phone all our State Senators and Representatives and ask them to return to Juneau and take care of this urgent matter. They will be "meeting" on Tuesday for another committee meeting over the webcams, but to approve the needed changes there needs to be an in-person vote.

For this kind of money, they need to fly to Juneau.

Here is the webpage to contact your representative in the Alaska State Legislature:

Your message can be this simple: Alaska needs every dime of AK Cares Act grant funding coming to us. The legislature needs to meet and vote!

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