cares photo illustration

cares photo illustration

CARES relief expanded

Businesses considered “secondary income” are now eligible.

As early as Thursday, an expanded number of small businesses across Alaska will be eligible for COVID-19 relief from the state’s Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Thursday that he had submitted modifications to the AK CARES Grant program that will make the funds available to businesses that had already received more than $5,000 in federal assistance and to businesses considered “secondary income” for the owners.

Tim Dillon, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, spoke to the Clarion Monday about how important those changes are, especially for business owners on the peninsula.

“So many school teachers, and people that have, you know, nine-month jobs that are part of the school district or something along those lines,” Dillon said. “Their other operation for those three months during the summer was considered a side gig. And I’m so glad that people finally listened and learned that, hey, Alaska’s not an inexpensive place to live. Anybody who’s got a family, and even if you don’t have a family, you need 12 months worth of income in order to be able to survive up here.”

Under the current law, the changes that Dunleavy proposed could be implemented within 45 days at the latest. Those changes could come as soon as this Thursday, however, if the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee votes to approve them when they meet Thursday morning.

Dillon said that he spoke with local legislators, members of the LBA Committee and the Speaker of the House, Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham last week and is confident that they will approve the changes. Dillon is so confident that he’s encouraging people who would become eligible with the latest changes to start submitting their applications now.

“They don’t have to wait till Thursday,” Dillon said. “They can go ahead (and apply). I talked specifically to the commissioner (Anderson) about this last week, they can go ahead and get their application in and be in the queue so that when it opens up on Thursday they’re going to be ready to go.”

In a press conference on Monday, Dunleavy explained that the latest proposed modifications are part of an ongoing effort by his administration to get the money allocated by the federal government into the hands of those who need it.

“We have been working with various business groups, talking with individuals, and we are going to continue to try and refine how we get that money out to individuals so that businesses that are seeking the funding can get it in a much more expedited fashion,” Dunleavy said.

Julie Anderson, commissioner of the department of commerce, said during the press conference that as of Sunday, the state had received 4,163 applications for CARES Act grants requesting approximately $197.2 million. A total of $290 million out of the $1.25 billion received by the State of Alaska was set aside specifically for small business relief. Dillon said that these latest changes being proposed by the governor should be enough to get the money into the right hands, at least with this round of COVID-19 relief.

Going forward, Dillon said, any new pieces of federal legislation related to the ongoing pandemic should address the loss in revenue experienced by local municipalities this year.

“One of the problems here on the Kenai Peninsula that the borough mayor has talked to me about is that, potentially, we could have a hole of between $6 and $9 million from lost tax revenue,” Dillon said. “Well, the only way to fix that is to either allow us to backfill it with some of the Alaska CARES money that came through the feds and wound up being municipal relief money, or the thing that none of us wants to see — and that’s our mill rates going up.”

Dillon was one of several state economists pushing as early as July for these changes to the Alaska CARES Act grant program. He said that the process of calling for change and watching it happen in real time has been a good example of how the government should function in the middle of a crisis.

“People have said this whole process has been like building an airplane while you’re flying it,” Dillon said. “You saw the document I wrote in July when I said, ‘These are the four points that need to be fixed.’ And lo and behold, we’re sitting here, August 20-something, and they’re actually fixed. That’s moving at light speed for government.”

To begin the application process for a COVID-19 relief grant from the State of Alaska, visit akcaresonline.org.

For assistance with this and other grant or loan applications, Kenai Peninsula business owners can contact the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District at 907-283-3335.

Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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