The Kenai Peninsula Borough administration building photographed on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

The Kenai Peninsula Borough administration building photographed on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Top priorities for CARES funds include businesses, nonprofits, seniors

The borough allocated its nearly $37.5 million in CARES Act dollars toward 24 different projects

Small business and nonprofit grants, communication tower development and housing relief were among the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s top priorities for CARES Act funds, according to a report from earlier this month.

The report, which is dated Jan. 11, was sent from Kenai Peninsula Borough Community and Fiscal Projects Manager Brenda Ahlberg to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and provides updates on the status of the 24 different projects to which the borough has allocated its nearly $37.5 million in CARES Act dollars. In total, the state of Alaska received $1.25 billion of the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund in the CARES Act.

As of January, the borough had put the most amount of money into their grants to small businesses, nonprofits and senior centers. According to the report, $6,081,250 in grants have been distributed to small businesses and nonprofits in the borough’s unincorporated communities. A second round of the program saw an additional $1,534,750 in grants awarded. Between the two distributions, 627 grants were approved, including 498 for small businesses, 129 for commercial fishers and 17 for nonprofits.

A larger chunk of the borough’s CARES Act money — more than $9 million — went to allocations for the borough’s six incorporated communities: Kenai, Soldotna, Homer, Seward, Seldovia and Kachemak City.

The borough also launched a housing relief program last year in order to help provide rent and mortgage assistance to qualified people who were directly impacted by COVID-19. Similar programs were offered in Kenai and Soldotna. The project was offered in partnership with the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation and offered up to $1,200 per month for the months of September through December 2020 to be distributed directly to the applicant’s landlord.

According to the report, AHFC received 911 applications for assistance and paid $1,307,927 out to 353 households, with average payment estimated to be $936.30 per month. The borough allocated $2 million for the program.

More than $2 million went to the development of communications towers throughout the borough aimed at helping expand internet access to rural communities. In all, five towers have been approved through an agreement with SPITwSPOTS, Inc., an Alaska-based internet service provider. Approved tower locations include Bear Creek, Nikiski, Ninilchik, Coho and Nikolaevsk, with the company working on an agreement with Tyonek.

Some of the borough’s less expensive projects include about $65,000 for equipment and licensing allowing the borough’s Incident Management Team to work remotely. The borough used about $130,000 for an absentee vote-by-mail campaign and $116,000 for hardware and software for teleworking staff.

Ahlberg said Wednesday that the borough’s leftover CARES funds will be used to reimburse the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District for their student home-to-school transportation program and expenditures related to COVID-19 education. The reimbursement is only eligible for costs the district accrued between July 1 and Dec. 30 of last year. For the transportation program, the borough will reimburse the district up to $1,740,942 and for the education program up to $2,111,091 based on the availability of funds.

Municipalities were previously operating in accordance with a Dec. 30, 2020 deadline by which federal CARES Act dollars must be spent, however, that deadline was extended to the end of 2021.

More information on the borough’s CARES Act projects can be found at cares.kpb.us.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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