Alaska Legislature

Legislative panel approves Dunleavy plan to widen coronavirus aid program

businesses, reopen, COVID-19, coronavirus
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Alaska lawmakers have unanimously approved easier entry requirements for Alaska’s $290 million small-business aid program.

The new standards, effective Monday, mean federal aid recipients are no longer barred from grants under the AK CARES program, which began in June but has been criticized for its slow pace.

Initial plans called for a private contractor to distribute as much as $150 million per month. As of Aug. 19, $41.9 million had been approved for 1,063 recipients. (Of that, $28.6 million had actually been transferred.)

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, which operates the program on behalf of the state, has hired additional contractors, but some businesses also complained about barriers to entry. The most significant was a ban on applicants that had received at least $5,000 from the federal Paycheck Protection Program or the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.

The administration of Gov. Mike Dunleavy, which wrote the ban, proposed last week to erase it.

The Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, a House-Senate panel that makes budget decisions for the Legislature while out of regular session, confirmed that decision in a 10-0 vote. This is the second time the program’s rules have been relaxed. Earlier this month, the state began allowing fishermen without business licenses to apply.

“I want to personally thank the Legislative Budget & Audit Committee for their focus and prompt response in approving my plan that will provide much needed critical relief to small Alaskan businesses as quickly as possible,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a prepared statement. “I have directed my team to immediately begin distributing these funds.”

Legislative attorney Megan Wallace said the approval could be subject to court challenge, since the approval is beyond the normal scope of the committee’s work.

A lawsuit earlier this year forced the Legislature to reconvene and ratify a similar decision. It was later dismissed.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said that if the committee’s action is challenged, then they’ll defend it in court. In the meantime, Alaskans need aid, and the Legislature shouldn’t stand in the way, he said.

“We can’t be fiddling around with our fiddle while our communities financially burn down,” he said.

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James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.