Updated – This update was written by KTOO and Alaska Public Media’s Andrew Kitchenman
The number of Alaska small businesses applying for COVID-19 relief grants expanded rapidly this week and they’re asking for more money than is available.
It was a stark reversal for the AK CARES grant program, after Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration expanded eligibility for the grants.
Through Aug. 18, businesses had applied for only $169 million of the $290 budgeted for the program.
But there was a wave of new applications on Monday, the first day of expanded eligibility.
After 812 businesses applied Monday for $55.6 million, there has been a total of $301.3 million requested, said Julie Anderson, the commissioner of the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.
The state is still taking applications, because program administrators expect that some of the businesses and expenses won’t be eligible. So far, $62.8 million has been approved. Anderson also said that roughly $10 million of the program budget will be spent on operating expenses. There have been a total of 5,785 applicants.
The sectors with the most applications include commercial fishing and hospitality, retail and recreation.
“I think everyone understands how significantly the fishing and tourism industries have been impacted through this virus,” Anderson said.
Under AK CARES’ original rules, businesses were not eligible if they had received any money from two federal programs (WEB– Payroll Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans.) Dunleavy announced he was eliminating those restrictions on Aug. 20.
Alan Weitzner administers the grants, as the executive director of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. He said the expanded eligibility made an immediate difference.
“Just by the results that we saw on Monday alone, show how important this change was for Alaska’s small businesses,” he said.
Weitzner said Credit Union 1, which originally was the only organization processing applications for the grants, is still working its way through a backlog. The Juneau Economic Development Council is working with state agencies to process new applications.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy plans to hold a COVID-19 news conference at 5 p.m. today.
Dunleavy will discuss CARES Act funding and distribution, unemployment benefits and an update on COVID-19 cases. Other officials who plan to join the conference include Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Commissioner Julie Anderson; Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Tamika Ledbetter; Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority Executive Director Alan Weitzner; and Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink.
State health officials reported two new deaths and 35 new cases of COVID-19 by Monday — all Alaska residents.