Juneau Assembly lines up final CARES Act programs ahead of deadline

Juneau City Hall sunny winter day
Juneau City Hall. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Local governments across the country are working to spend the last of their federal CARES Act money ahead of an end-of-year deadline.

The Juneau Assembly has three more programs teed up to pump the last $5 million or so of its share of the relief money into the economy. There isn’t enough money left to fund all of them, so there will be some competition.

Adults who live in Juneau, earn less than $58,900 a year, and have been financially hurt by the pandemic may be eligible for $1,000 to $2,000 in direct payments under a proposal by Juneau Assembly member Alicia Hughes-Skandijs.

“I think of this just as, sort of, we’ve been targeting different things at the business community,” Hughes-Skandijs said. “But I don’t feel like we’ve done a ton up to this point looking at worker relief, so this seemed like the best way to do that.”

Hughes-Skandijs says she got the idea from Skagway’s direct payment program. She hopes to set aside $2 million of the city’s CARES Act money for it.

Assembly member Greg Smith wants to put $1 million more into housing and utility assistance. Hundreds of people applied for that program in the first few days.

He thinks there will be more applicants than what the $3 million the Assembly already committed will cover. The nonprofit Catholic Community Service is handling the applications. By Executive Director Erin Walker-Tolles’ past estimates, an extra $1 million would serve another 600 or 700 households.

“Obviously, this has been a big strain on everyone,” Smith said. “You know, a goal of mine is definitely get it into hands of families, especially those with lower incomes, because the data shows that they are the ones that have suffered most financially.”

The program, which Catholic Community Service is taking applications for, is for households financially impacted by the pandemic that earn less than $94,200 a year. They can get up to $2,000 in rent, mortgage and utility relief.

Mayor Beth Weldon is proposing $2.3 million for an “Extreme Hardship Business Grant Program.”

“The reason that we’re looking at the ‘extreme hardship’ is because these are the businesses that when we were encouraged to hunker down or mandated to close or severely limit operations,” Weldon said. “So, any of those businesses, basically, for something that they didn’t have any control of and they were harmed, that’s what we’re looking for.”

Eligible businesses could get up to $50,000. They must be year-round and show at least 50% losses in sales when comparing the last fiscal quarter to the same quarter in 2019. They’d also have to commit to spend at least 30% of the grant on payroll.

As far as the three proposals competing for the same pool of money, Weldon said she personally prefers the existing housing and utility grants over the direct assistance.

“Those are very similar, so I would imagine those figures might be adjusted, if we choose to go that route,” she said.

Smith said it’s a discussion for the Assembly’s next Finance Committee meeting.

“I think the goals are all the same. I think we’re going to hash out on Tuesday where we want the remaining money to go,” Smith said.

If the direct payments and business grant proposals advance, they’re headed for public hearing and final vote by the full Assembly on Nov. 23. Smith’s ordinance for extra housing assistance has not been formally introduced yet.

Note: We’d like to disclose that Jeremy Hsieh, who reported this story, has applied for the housing and utility assistance.