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Anchorage Assembly approves plan to give financial assistance to small businesses and renters

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On Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly unanimously passed an emergency ordinance that will provide financial relief to some Anchorage residents hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Assembly approved a request by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s administration to allocate $1 million to a small business relief fund, which would dole out $10,000 grants to 100 small businesses that have suffered financial losses and have not received federal assistance through the CARES Act.

Additionally, $1 million will go a housing costs relief fund, which will be disbursed through an already-established United Way program. Renters and homeowners can apply by calling Alaska 211. If selected for assistance, the money will be given directly to a landlord, or a bank for those seeking assistance on their mortgage.

“We are receiving north of 50 calls per day to 211, asking for this type of assistance,” Berkowitz’s Chief of Staff, Jason Bockenstedt, told the Assembly.

Both are pilot projects. Bockenstedt said the plan would be to expand the funds after receiving more federal and state dollars.

“This is a small dip in the bucket to what probably the overall need is, but we wanted to try and get funding into both small businesses’ and resident’s hands,” he said. “As each day passes, we know there’s more and more concern.”

Economic and Community Development Director Chris Schutte said the first round of disbursements to businesses will help inform the city on whether $10,000 grants are sufficient.

City officials did not say when the program will be up and running, but they said it will likely not be by next week. Businesses that fit the requirements will be selected for assistance through a lottery.

The $2 million came in the form of an amendment to a package seeking to move $10 million from the general fund to a COVID-19 fund, to pay for things like the city’s emergency operations center and emergency shelter for the homeless. The Assembly passed the full, $12 million package.

Bockenstedt said the plan is to reimburse the general fund with money from the federal CARES Act. Bockenstedt said the U.S. Treasury’s guidelines for how those funds can be used include things like rental assistance and small business grants. However, according to the emergency ordinance, Anchorage taxpayers would be on the hook if for some reason federal assistance did not apply.

“I have zero worry that this will not be reimbursed,” Bockenstedt said.

There will be some criteria for what businesses can get the money, such as number of employees and annual gross revenue. Also, businesses that have received federal assistance related to COVID-19, such as through the Paycheck Protection Program or Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, are not eligible.

Schutte said now, the city does not have information indicating what businesses have received federal funds already, but that information will be released at some point. The city plans to go back and audit small business recipients of the pilot project, and if it finds those businesses did get federal assistance it will try to take back the $10,000 grant.

“We’re going to put some trust in applicants,” he said.

Nonprofits are eligible for the funds, and as of now accepting funds will not disqualify small businesses from further assistance from the municipality.

“I think it’s badly needed in the business community now,” Schutte said. “I think the burn rate on this money will be quick.”

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