Alaska businesses and families need a life raft — now

We all remember the sacrifices made this past March, and again in August, when Anchorage pulled together to ‘hunker down’ against the coronavirus. Now, as Anchorage prepares to necessarily do so again, one major difference stands out: the impending arrival of federal aid.

Federal aid quickly followed after the country first learned what it meant to “hunker down.” Paycheck Protection Program loans of $1.3 billion and more than $480 million in Economic Injury Disaster loans and grants were deployed to Alaska business owners. According to Alaska’s Small Business Development Center, more than 65,000 jobs were retained by the PPP. Enhanced unemployment payments helped the 13% of Anchorage’s workforce who’d been laid off or furloughed. The state of Alaska granted $290 million to Alaskan small businesses. The Municipality of Anchorage distributed millions of dollars to local businesses, nonprofit groups and individuals to help mitigate financial impacts on families across the city. Those federal dollars have been essential to keeping many in our state afloat in rough waters. Even so, it just scratched the surface of the immediate needs of so many.

As the CEO of Anchorage Community Land Trust, a local nonprofit organization serving business owners and residents in some of Anchorage’s most economically vulnerable communities, I know firsthand how vital these relief funds have been. At ACLT, we have spent hundreds of hours directly assisting business owners and residents as they navigated the myriad relief funds and resources. No one program could save every business owner in the face of these unprecedented circumstances, but we can tell you firsthand that every dollar of relief that did arrive was absolutely critical. One of the silver linings for our team at ACLT in this hardest of years has been receiving texts from business owners we’ve supported, telling us that funds have come through and their business can hold on for at least a little longer. Some are new businesses that have launched this year, and some are staple neighborhood businesses that have been successful landmarks for over a decade. All have been disproportionately impacted by the “hunker down” orders, and all are struggling to figure out their next steps to stay afloat amid the storm. Now, these businesses, families and local governments who were buoyed by the crucial relief dollars in the previous two shutdowns are at the breaking point.

The amount of federal aid passed out of Congress was staggering and arrived in a quantity never before seen. This signified not only the gravity of the situation we were facing but the response we could muster as Americans to see each other get through it. These unparalleled resources were vital to meeting the unparalleled sacrifices that many business owners, employees, and families made to save lives in our community. Today, many are still making those sacrifices, and with record unemployment, long lines at food banks and new business closures, more relief for our neighbors should be a top and immediate priority.

Alaska families and businesses need action now, and they deserve it. The CARES relief funds from March are tapped out. Almost all available relief funds were immediately oversubscribed as programs rolled out throughout the year. Many individuals and businesses across our community did not receive the comprehensive relief they need to move forward. As we live through the worst health crisis since 1918 and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, we need Congress to treat it as such, and work with local governments to immediately create and deploy more aid.

Local governments across our state are in an unenviable position. They must continue to make difficult decisions to enforce public health measures that will see our hospital and health system hold up, and allow us to save lives. To those frustrated with and impacted by the most recent round of closures, your pleas should not be to Acting Anchorage Mayor Quinn-Davidson; rather, they should be to Congress to get money out the door immediately to address the ongoing need. Mayor Quinn-Davidson herself has called for federal action to be taken swiftly.

At this rate, Congress is not expected to pass another relief bill until the end of January at the earliest. Families and businesses that are struggling can’t wait until then. Federal aid is needed immediately to limit harm on Alaskans, and to lift our community through the pandemic until we can get back on a path to normalcy. I, and many in the small business and nonprofit community, call on Congress to act now to ease the way in this unthinkable and challenging time. Every second and every dollar counts.


Kirk Rose is CEO of Anchorage Community Land Trust, a non-profit working to improve quality of life in Anchorage’s economically vulnerable communities. He served on Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s Economic Resiliency Task Force alongside many partners to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on Anchorage’s small business, nonprofit and residential communities.

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