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Economic stimulus, family support and housing: Anchorage officials promote use of CARES Act funds

Downtown Anchorage, photographed on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

In the coming weeks or months, tens of millions of dollars will be made available for Anchorage small business owners and employees, residents unable to pay rent and parents who can’t afford child care as schools are set to begin virtually.

The money comes from the city through the federal CARES Act, which provides financial assistance to state and local government dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Assembly has been working on the spending plan since May, and has held several public meetings to discuss how the money should be spent.

Last week, the Anchorage Assembly approved a spending plan for the remainder of the $156.7 million the state allocated for its largest city.

On Monday, Berkowitz and members of his administration, along with Assembly Chair Felix Rivera, held a briefing to promote the spending package.

While the public’s interest has primarily been centered around the plan to use $12.5 million of the federal funds to purchase three buildings for increased homeless services, Berkowitz said the money is focused in several areas: economic stimulus, family support, housing, public health and safety, community investment and to fund the city’s response to the pandemic.

The plan to purchase the buildings provoked the ire of nearby residents, who filed complaints with the U.S. Treasury alleging the funds were being misused. That prompted a meeting with the agency’s Office of the Inspector General, and the city plans to schedule a meeting with the Treasury soon to better vet its spending plan.

Rivera said the city is working to publish a new page on its website listing where the CARES Act funds are going, and how to apply for various assistance, whether it’s a business grant, rental assistance or money for child care.

Part of the problem, Rivera said, is everyone is impacted by the pandemic.

“There’s no way we can help everyone on our own, but we can try to do the most good for the most people,” he said.

The city is now working to get the money out on the street. Chris Schutte, director of Community and Economic Development, said while the city’s first $1 million pilot small business relief fund barred businesses who had received federal COVID-19 assistance from accessing grants, the subsequent $14 million for small businesses will not have that provision.

“That was a major impediment to small businesses and nonprofits actually getting sufficient funds to weather the COVID-19 pandemic,” Schutte said.

Berkowitz said he would also like to see the state do the same. Its $290 million business relief program includes a clause disallowing businesses that have taken more than $5,000 in federal relief dollars from accessing the state money.

As of last week, about $125 million of that fund was still available for applications.