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Unalaska Community Support Program Unable to Meet Growing Funding Requests From Local Agencies

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Berett Wilber/KUCB
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At a special meeting this week, the City of Unalaska granted more than $1.34 millionto nine local organizations through its community support program for the fiscal year 2022. That's less than a 3% increase from last year's funding, despite more than a 9% increase in the amount requested.

When Unalaska's nonprofits were granted funding from the city's community support program last year, they knew that funding was going to be crucial. At the time, they faced hunker down orders, mandated closures and a drastic drop in tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic.

What they may not have realized is the pandemic would still be taking harsh jabs at their revenue nearly a year later, when they returned to ask the city for funding again.

Even though restrictions are starting to loosen, the effects of an entire year of social distancing and avoiding public spaces, as well as a likely prospect of another summer with little to no tourism continues to impact local agencies and nonprofits, many of which look to the city to help. 

Daneen Looby is a part owner of the Norwegian Rat Saloon. She spoke at the council's special meeting Monday in support of Unalaskans Against Sexual Assault and Family Violence (USAFV). She said the nonprofit has stepped up to help locals throughout the year, and that extra work should be recognized.

"They have done an awesome job at reaching out to community members, especially when the bar got shut down," Looby said. "They reached out to us to help our bartenders and our cooks and everybody. They're very proactive in helping everybody in the community, no matter what kind of needs there are." 

This year, there were no nonprofit capital grant requests, and there were fewer requests overall. Still, local agency requests totaled more than $145,000 over the city's targeted available funds.

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Several organizations asked for amounts similar to last year's requests. And council members unanimously granted full funding to many of those, including the Unalaska Visitor's Bureau, KUCB, USAFV, the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (APIA), the Museum of the Aleutians and Unalaska Senior Citizens. 

But, in order to reach their targeted spending amount, council members had to cut funding to other programs. Those cuts were to three organizations, two of which received reduced funding last year as well: The Qawalangin Tribe's Camp Qungaayux̂, a new nonprofit — the tribe's food bank — and the Iliuliuk Family and Health Services clinic (IFHS). 

IFHS requested $180,000, the same amount it asked for last year. Part of that request was to help maintain staffing for after hours emergencies. As the island has no hospital, the clinic provides one of the only options in emergency situations. 

Councilman David Gregory spoke in support of the clinic at the meeting.  

"The health of our community is just so important," Gregory said. "That's why I think we need to make sure that they get the money that they need in order to run this after hours emergency program." 

After much deliberation, the council voted to grant the clinic roughly $150,000, about 6% less than it received last year.

"I actually do kind of find it, I wouldn't say disturbing, but a little ironic that we're in a state of emergency and we're cutting the clinic grant amount," said council member Shari Coleman. 

Most members were reluctant to make cuts to the clinic, but some also noted that it has already received notable federal funding.

Coleman said she feels confident that the clinic will likely be eligible to get federal aid again this year, and if the city does end up receiving more funding through programs similar to the CARES Act, she hopes some of that can also go to IFHS.

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Ultimately, council members voted to fund the tribe's culture camp at $39,000, just under half of its requested amount but $15,000 more than it received last year. When determining how much to grant the tribe's camp, council voiced concerns that the camp may be cancelled this year. Councilman Thom Bell said that if the camp is alloted a larger amount and those funds are not used, that could mean other organizations would also be missing out on that money. He suggested funding the camp at their awarded amount from last year of $24,000.

Still, councilman Gregory noted that the camp is a vital part of community engagement.

"I think it's an important program that serves many, many different people in the community," he said. "And I think it's money well spent."

Council granted the tribe's food bank almost half of the $129,857 it requested. Qawalangin Tribe CEO Chris Price said at the meeting that the food bank had received some federal funding through Aleutian Housing Authority — the tribally designated housing entity for the region. He said that is being used to help get the food bank started, but as far as any other funding goes, nothing has yet been solidified.

"We'd like to see this food bank get started and operating in our community," Price said. "And it will cost a considerable amount to get it started, but we think it can be sustainable. In a year from now, we'll know a lot more, based on our expenditures and other grants we may be able to get over time."

The nine organizations that were granted money through the community grant program will begin receiving funds at the beginning of the 2022 fiscal year in July. The funds are distributed monthly in equal allotments. 

 

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