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Unalaska's 'Non-Essential' Businesses Set To Receive First Round Of CARES Act Funds

Hope McKenney/KUCB


The City of Unalaska will start distributing funds to non-essential businesses that had to close due to COVID-19 as early as Monday, according to city officials.

Unalaska is slated to receive $13.4 million in funds from the federal CARES Act, which is aimed at assisting local communities, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that have been impacted by the pandemic. 

The city is trying to develop a plan as to how to best utilize those funds, which will come in three installments, according to Planning Director Bil Homka.

He said the city has been trying to figure out what to do with the money since the government provided very little guidance and restrictions on how the money can be spent.

"There's been a lot of discussion about this program, and probably for good reason, because there are a lot of options," Homka said. "This money comes to our community with pretty free rein for how we want to use it to respond to what's happened so far from the coronavirus and then how to prepare from this point forward."

The city opened up a pre-application for local businesses and nonprofits to apply for funding earlier this month, between June 18 and June 22. 34 local businesses and 10 nonprofits applied during the short pre-application window.

At a special meeting on Friday, city councilors approved a funding formula by which initial grant amounts are to be calculated for non-essential businesses that were mandated to close for approximately 80 days after the pandemic hit Alaska in March. 

The pre-application disbursement amount is based on the business' daily gross sales revenue from its 2019 tax return, which is then multiplied by 80 days — the duration of the required closures for non-essential businesses — and then multiplied by one half. 

Homka said the city could start writing checks for non-essential businesses that applied during the pre-application period as soon as Monday.

He said the city still has to decide what to do with nonprofits and essential businesses that applied for funding during the pre-application period, as well as when future application rounds will occur.

The allocation process, according to Homka, has been complicated and lengthy, largely because a grant like the CARES Act has not been issued before. He also noted that the government doesn't consider some of the convoluted business models unique to Alaska, which makes granting funds even more complex.

"A lot of times when Congress thinks these programs up, they think typical mainstream, where I'm from: Midwest, main street U.S.A. They don't think about how our businesses are doing business not only in three states, but internationally," Homka said. "So if a fishing vessel here wants to apply for funding: well number one, is it eligible? Number two, is it applying in two other places, so I have to coordinate with those places? Are they making three claims? It's not something like Mrs. Jones' breakfast joint on Main Street and that's that." 

Homka said the Planning Department will provide as much information as it can so that the City Council can make decisions about how to move forward. Councilors are set to discuss funding for nonprofits at their meeting on July 14.

Hope McKenney is a public radio news director, reporter, producer and host based in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
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