Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy is proposing to eliminate some restrictions on the state’s $290 million coronavirus aid program for small businesses.
The program, known as AK CARES, distributes grants of between $5,000 and $100,000 for business costs suffered during the coronavirus pandemic. Under existing rules, businesses that received more than $5,000 from the federal Paycheck Protection Program or the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program are not eligible.
The new rules would eliminate that restriction and permit the owners of part-time businesses to apply for aid. This would open the program to Alaskans who use commercial fishing or other businesses as a secondary income source.
“We are hearing very clearly from businesses throughout Alaska that relief needs to come now,” Dunleavy said in a written statement. “Through no fault of their own, entrepreneurs in our state are in jeopardy, and we need to be there for them, their workers, and their families.”
The governor’s proposal was part of a collection of budget changes submitted to the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, a House-Senate panel that takes budget actions while the Legislature is out of session. If the panel rejects the governor’s proposal, he can unilaterally implement it within 45 days.
“We should have it done in a week,” said Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, the chairman of the committee.
“On the surface, looks like it’ll all be in order,” he said.
This is the second time that the program’s rules have been relaxed to allow more applicants. Following complaints that it was excluding many Alaskans, the state began taking applications from commercial fishermen without businesses licenses.
Since proposed in late April and launched at the start of June, the AK CARES program has been criticized for its slow pace. At the program’s inception, plans called for a private contractor to distribute as much as $150 million per month in aid. As of Wednesday, $41.9 million had been approved for 1,063 recipients. (Of that, $28.6 million has been transferred.)
A second contractor has been hired by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to process applications. That state-owned corporation is administering the program on behalf of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.
Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, called the pace of the AK CARES program “really unacceptable.”
Earlier this week, she and Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, jointly asked Dunleavy to convene a special session of the Alaska Legislature to address the AK CARES issue and other problems with coronavirus aid.
Other lawmakers have also urged the governor to address the issue. Last week, Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Kenai, asked Dunleavy on Facebook to “call a limited special session to fix the CARES Act funding problems or quickly eliminate the bureaucratic hurdles that are preventing the state from helping our struggling businesses and commercial fishermen.”
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