Anchorage

Anchorage Assembly weighs how to spend incoming $50 million in federal relief funds

Anchorage is expecting another round of federal COVID-19 relief funds, about $50 million, to come through at the end of the month. The Anchorage Assembly will ultimately direct how that money is spent.

The Assembly has set four priority categories for the money. It intends to spend it on efforts for child and family support, housing, economic development and promoting a healthy workforce.

Last May, the Assembly approved a $51.6 million pandemic relief package with the first round of American Rescue Plan Act funds. It covered a wide array of programs, organizations and nonprofits to help relieve economic hardship and included grants for small businesses, tourism relief and money for housing and homelessness, among more than 50 other items. The largest chunk, about $21.5 million, went toward existing city programs.

The relief funds do come with some guidelines from the federal government dictating how they can be spent, but overall the city has flexibility in how it chooses to invest the money.

“These funds are a unique opportunity to invest in our community and help tackle priorities like affordable housing, supports for families, strengthening our workforce and economic development,” said Assembly member Forrest Dunbar, co-chair of the Budget and Finance Committee.

Mayor Dave Bronson has also put forward his own, separate plan for how he says the city should spend more than $45 million of the coming relief funds.

Bronson’s proposal largely consists of city government spending and city construction projects, such as $2.5 million for city vehicles and $4.5 million for a Sand Lake sewer and water system.

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The mayor’s largest item is $10.25 million in funding for two years of operations of the proposed East Anchorage homeless navigation center and shelter. (The Assembly is slated to vote on separate funding for construction of the shelter at its meeting next Tuesday.)

Dunbar said he believes Bronson’s proposal includes some worthy suggestions and projects, and that the Assembly will “balance those with the input of our constituents, Assembly members and community leaders.”

However, it’s likely the Assembly will prioritize “getting the funds into the private sector and the hands of nongovernmental partners” rather than government projects, he said.

This week, Assembly leaders issued a call for proposals for the second round of American Rescue Plan Act dollars. Nonprofits, private businesses and other organizations, including tribal and educational organizations, can fill out applications online. The deadline for proposals is 5 p.m. May 20.

The Assembly will review the proposals as it decides how best to spend the money.

The Assembly “envisions funding projects which focus on economic resilience, will increase our competitiveness as a destination city, and make all parts of our city vibrant and welcoming,” Assembly leadership said in a written statement.

This Friday at 1 p.m., the Assembly will hold its second work session on the coming relief funds, and the members plan to introduce a draft of a distribution plan at the regular May 10 Assembly meeting. Assembly leadership said they won’t make any final decisions on spending until next month.

Over the last few months, the Assembly held six meetings reviewing how those past American Rescue Plan funds and other COVID-19 relief funds were invested, hearing from previous relief grant recipients and previously funded programs about how they spent the dollars and the money’s impacts.

On May 24, the Assembly will hold a public hearing on its plans for the $50 million. It is slated to vote to adopt a final plan at its June 7 meeting.

Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. She earned her degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. Contact her at egoodykoontz@adn.com.

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