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Anchorage Assembly set to decide how city will spend millions in federal pandemic relief funds

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Update, 7 p.m. Tuesday: When a standing item to allow the Anchorage Assembly to undo Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s emergency orders came up, Assembly members Jamie Allard and John Weddleton brought a motion to remove the city’s recent, controversial emergency order to halt dine-in service at restaurants and bars through August 30.

The motion failed 7-4, keeping the emergency order in place.

The proposal led to a heated debate, with Allard arguing government mandates have led to a rise in suicides and domestic violence, while other members argued the closure of high-risk places like bars and restaurants is necessary to control the pandemic.

Berkowitz said the closure of bars and restaurants to dine-in service allows all other businesses to remain open. It’s imperative, he argued.

“I’ve been mocked because I care about this community,” Berkowitz said. “I’ve been mocked because the impact on my family has been profound. There’s been indecency in the response from too many in this community.”

“Those who stand up and stand strong, they’ll be proud of how they behaved. Those who are petty and vindictive will be ashamed of themselves later on.”

Update, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday: Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Loussac Library and along East 36th Avenue as the Anchorage Assembly prepared to vote on how to spend CARES Act funding and whether to use some of that money for the purchase of four buildings for homeless and treatment services.

The protesters voiced a variety of concerns, including that Assembly chambers were closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Let us in! Let us in! Let us in!” shouted many protesters.

Bill Borchardt said he was there in part because he opposes the building purchases for homeless services and the creation of a drug and alcohol treatment center at the Best Western Golden Lion Inn.

“It’s about moving the homeless, vagrants, into Midtown,” said Borchardt.

Others at the protest said they turned out because they’re frustrated with the city’s recent pandemic-related emergency order closing all bars and barring dine-in service at restaurants and breweries.

“Our economy is dying and we’ve had enough,” said Kristy Herrington.

Original story:

On Tuesday evening, the Anchorage Assembly will take up how to spend about $100 million in federal aid tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, the state allocated $156.7 million to the city from the CARES Act federal relief package. The city has already spent some of that money, and earmarked other pieces in separate ordinances. The package that will be taken up Tuesday will direct how the remainder of the federal dollars will be spent.

The spending plan is wide-ranging, including allocations to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on the economy. It aims to put the federal funds toward jobs programs and providing relief to nonprofits and the tourism industry as a whole.

It also includes funds for the controversial purchase of several buildings to bolster homeless and treatment services in Anchorage. That portion will be deliberated and voted on separately.

The Assembly will take public testimony, then deliberate and vote. If they are not able to vote by midnight, Assembly Chair Felix Rivera said, he would make a motion for the meeting to be continued Wednesday.

In the past few weeks, the hospitality industry and other business interests have lobbied Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and the Assembly to carve out a bigger chunk of money to help workers and business owners in the bar and restaurant industry, which has been hit hardest by local government mandates.

After reopening the city’s business sector in June, Berkowitz signed Emergency Order 14 on July 22, limiting bars to 25% capacity and restaurants to 50% capacity. Then, following another rise in COVID-19 cases in the municipality, he signed Emergency Order 15 on July 31, closing all bars and restaurants for in-house services for four weeks.

As a result, the industry is asking for more help for business owners and laid-off workers. On Thursday, the Brewers Guild of Alaska and the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association sent a proposal to the Assembly, asking for $21 million to be allocated for the hospitality industry.

The next day, the Assembly convened and allocated $7 million for the tourism industry at large. CHARR CEO and President Sarah Oates said she doesn’t know how that will be divvied up, but that businesses that are fully closed should be prioritized.

She also said the $7 million is a “drop in the bucket.”

”Almost none of those businesses have received any aid from the municipality or from the state, who, collectively, are sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars that could help these businesses that were shut down,” Oates said.

Rivera said several amendments to the CARES Act spending plan have been proposed, but he didn’t know if any would carve out more funding for the industry.

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