Further economic relief for residents, a second phase of business grants and more money for nonprofit organizations are components of a nearly $4.5 million SOLDOTNA CARES spending plan that was approved at Wednesday’s Soldotna City Council meeting.
The programs, which were presented as resolution 2020-045, will be funded as part of updates to the spending plan, according to a memo to the council from Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen.
Soldotna’s second wave of business grants will be funded by $2,564,329 in CARES Act money transferred to the city from the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The new grants will specifically target Soldotna businesses that have experienced decreases in total gross sales due to COVID-19, according to the memo.
The city completed the first wave of the grant program in August. 129 small businesses in Soldotna received more than $1.3 million grants, with individual awards capped at $15,000. The second wave will see that cap increased to $35,000, with demonstrated hardship taken into account when determining eligibility and award amounts.
The city will also consider “very small businesses,” or businesses with total gross sales between $15,000 and $25,000, in the second wave of grants. These businesses were not eligible for grants under the first phase because the city required businesses to have a minimum of $25,000 in annual gross sales.
As part of the package, the city also approved $1.5 million in direct assistance to Soldotna residents who have been impacted by COVID-19. One-time grants of no more than $1,500 will be awarded to qualifying households based on submitted receipts for qualifying expenses.
People interested in applying must be permanent city residents and be able to provide proof of residency. Additionally, they must describe the economic harm their household experienced as a result of COVID-19, which may include loss of unemployment benefits or reduced hours, among other things. Money granted by the city may be used for housing, utility, child care, medical, food expenses or other qualifying uses.
According to the memo, there are more than 1,800 households in Soldotna and the program is expected to see more applicants than any of the city’s other grant programs. Because of the additional documentation that will need to be submitted with applications, the city will be reaching out to local businesses to see whether they may be able to hire them on a contract basis to help with application intake and verification.
The next wave of nonprofit grants will be targeted to critical needs identified by the city earlier in the year, including housing and homelessness, food security, mental health and child care.
Though the first wave of the city’s nonprofit grants was open to all local nonprofits affected by COVID-19, the second wave will “engage directly with non-profit organizations providing services in the community” and will bring requests to the council on a case-by-case basis, according to the memo.
The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank will receive $250,000 to be put towards distributing weekly food boxes that will be free to recipients, as well as general operations. $150,000 of the total grant amount will be used to distribute the boxes, in partnership with the Soldotna Food Pantry, Soldotna Methodist Church and Christ Lutheran Church. Each box will contain about $20 worth of food in addition to donated items that include fresh frozen salmon, bread and produce as available, according to the memo.
Church volunteers will be available to deliver food to households unable to pick items up.
The program will begin in early October and run for about 12 weeks. Each week, the Food Bank will assemble and distribute up to 500 boxes.
The other $100,000 will help cover the Food Bank’s operational costs which include increased staff time and labor, transportation and storage, according to the memo.
Love INC will also receive $10,000 from the city in response to a significant increase in requests for assistance, including financial assistance for Homeless Prevention Services.
“While there have been moratoriums on evictions and utility shut offs, those will come to an end and clients will be faced with bills they cannot begin to pay,” the memo reads.
A $175,000 grant will also be awarded to Peninsula Community Health Services (PCHS), a nonprofit community health center with locations in Soldotna and Kenai.
$50,000 will be used to help transport behavioral health clients. PCHS case managers usually transport clients in their own vehicles, but this is no longer possible because of COVID-19. The money will be used to purchase cab tokens for clients “actively engaging in services with PCHS’ Behavioral Health department” and who work with a case manager or individual service provider.
$125,000 will be used to expand PCHS’ telehealth capabilities. PCHS identified 10 rooms between their Kenai and Soldotna locations that will be converted so as to provide telehealth services to behavioral health clients. A monitor display, speakers, microphone, desktop computers, tablets, and cameras are among the technology that will be added to each room.
Council Member Justin Ruffridge commended the memo, which he called “exceptional.”
“It took everything that we had talked about over the course of two or three months from every sort of council member’s perspective and others in the community,” Ruffridge said. “It’s nuanced but it’s simple and it really tries to address all of the little pieces that we were concerned about.”
The council unanimously adopted the resolution.