Dunleavy: Keeping Alaska’s economy healthy

To date, the SBA has very successfully provided Alaskan businesses with over $1.7 billion in aid.

Recently, our administration presented Alaska’s Legislature with a plan to extend hundreds of millions of dollars to hurting small businesses currently ineligible for AK CARES grants. Those impacted by this expansion of eligibility include small businesses who previously received federal aid and Alaskans who operate a secondary business on the side. These program improvements will take effect immediately upon the Legislature’s approval.

Many will remember that AK CARES was originally created through a similar collaboration with the Legislature in May. At the time, the program was intended to fill specific gaps in the Small Business Administration’s COVID-19 relief offerings. To date, the SBA has very successfully provided Alaskan businesses with over $1.7 billion in aid. However, we wanted to be sure that those ineligible for SBA programs had an opportunity to receive funding through AK CARES.

We are now confident that small businesses in this category have either received their AK CARES’ grants or are first in the application queue. With these high-priority grants disbursed or in process, it’s time to extend eligibility to small businesses that have received any amount of SBA funding (through the PPP or EIDL programs) as well as small businesses that operate as a secondary source of income.

We are also pleased to report that grant processing is rapidly accelerating. For months, we faced significant headwinds in the form of frivolous lawsuits. Because of a single individual’s legally baseless claims, Alaskans were denied access to aid they desperately needed. With these lawsuits withdrawn or dismissed, the legality of our program has been confirmed; grant approvals have subsequently doubled to over 1,000, bringing our total to $42 million.

Additionally, program staffing has grown exponentially. With the Juneau Economic Development Council and Credit Union 1 processing applications, and the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority acting as additional program operators, approximately 55 staff members are now reviewing applications. More importantly, Credit Union 1’s staff are now free to focus their entire operation on the existing application backlog.

Our new online application portal has further enhanced our processing capability. This simple-to-use system has received 1,273 applications in just a couple weeks and replaces an arduous paper process. Following the expected legislative approval, newly eligible businesses may apply at www.akcaresonline.org. In the meantime, we encourage these businesses to review the AK CARES FAQ and checklist to begin preparing their applications.

Keeping our community businesses running and Alaskans employed is ultimately a team effort between our federal delegation, the State, and our local leaders. At the local level, $569 million in CARES Act funding was earmarked for Alaska’s 228 eligible communities. Disbursements began in May, just two days after the plan was approved by the Legislature.

We’re pleased to see that many communities have used these funds to create economic relief programs of their own. In Fairbanks, small businesses like Lavelle’s Bistro and nearly 200 others have benefited from local grants. In Juneau, an innovative jobs program is helping keep trails maintained and Alaskans employed. Other communities like Anchorage are working hard to develop solutions of their own, and we hope to highlight their successes soon.

We strongly believe that, secondary to health and safety, nothing is more important than ensuring that every Alaskan can earn a living in these difficult times. Thankfully, Alaska’s elected leaders share our belief and have indicated they will quickly approve these modifications.

While it’s true that no amount of government effort can fully restore Alaska’s economy until a vaccine or cure is developed, programs like AK CARES and their local equivalents are making a positive difference. We intend to build on these successes as we work to stabilize our economy and improve the lives of everyday Alaskans.

If you have questions on the AK CARES program that are not answered by the FAQ, please contact 907-771-3019 or grants@akcaresonline.org.

Mike Dunleavy is the 12th governor of Alaska.

Julie Anderson is the commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development.

Alan Weitzner is the executive director of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

By Mike Dunleavy, Julie Anderson, Alan Weitzner