Photo: Viktor Hanacek

The State of Alaska will be issuing small businesses grants instead of loans, this the determination as $568.6 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is being sent to tens of thousands of Alaskans and Alaska small businesses.  The Legislative Budget and Audit Committee (LB&A) voted to approve two separate appropriations: one for $257.6 million and another for $311 million. 

“Across our state, municipal governments, businesses, and organizations that are the fabric of our communities are fighting for survival. Today’s action provides badly needed help,” House Speaker Bryce Edgmon I-Dillingham said. “Given the work of the LB&A committee, the governor agreed to adopt key legislative proposals. One example: small businesses impacted by COVID-19 will be eligible for direct cash grants rather than the governor’s earlier proposal of a new program that would issue loans that must be repaid.”

Monday evening’s actions follows weeks the LB&A vetting of Govenor Michael Dunleavy’s proposals to spend the $1.5 billion in federal stimulus funds, as well as input from members of the Legislature.

$290 million is designated to provide relief to Alaska small businesses impacted by COVID-19. The money will be distributed through grants at the direction of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. DCCED estimates this funding will help 10,000 small businesses that were unable to obtain loans through the federal Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.

$45 million to help stabilize K-12 classrooms, $42 million for child nutrition programs that serve children forced out of school by the pandemic. $5 million for direct financial aid grants to help University of Alaska students, and to help minimize systemic impacts of COVID-19 on the university system.

$10 million for the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation to help prevent homelessness by helping people make mortgage and rent payments. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some people experiencing homelessness are at higher risk of moderate to severe symptoms of COVID-19.

Under the agreement, $568.6 million will be distributed communities and local governments impacted by COVID-19, distributed in a model that follows the precedent set by the longstanding Community Assistance Program. 

$3.6 million in critical funding was allocated for state, local, and tribal governments to provide a range of programs including law enforcement, prosecution, indigent defense, courts, crime prevention and education, corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, and more.

Alaska fisheries will receive $100 million in economic stimulus to make up for coronavirus shutdown related losses for those who fish commercially or operate charters and guided fishing tours.

$51.6 million will be directed to improvements in the Whittier Tunnel, rural airports and other programs managed by the Alaska Department of Transportation. $29 million to address rural transportation costs, including the Alaska Marine Highway System.