By Gretchen Wehmhoff
In a May 28 special Borough Finance committee meeting, assembly members considered a resolution to distribute $7.4 million in relief funds to the residents of Skagway.
Designated via the State of Alaska, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) (H.R. 748, P.L. 116-136) recently passed by Congress, would assist the municipality in COVID-19 response and economic relief. Up to an additional $1.9 million may also be available to supplement lost revenue of the borough’s Commercial Passenger Vehicle (CPV) funding, a $5 head tax.
In response to the committee’s request for a distribution plan, Borough Manager Brad Ryan presented a proposal that would pay community assistance, fund food banks and other direct Covid-19 related expenses, as well as provide monthly checks to residents of Skagway.
The draft plan includes payments of $1,000 per resident, per month from June or July through December 2020. Working with the additional CPV grant opportunity of $1.9 million, Ryan hopes to extend the payments through March 2021.
“The idea is to maintain the Skagway community here … and make it through to the next cruise season,” said Ryan.
In order to qualify for the CPV grant, Ryan’s office needed to submit the primary application by May 29.
Ryan said paying every current resident a monthly amount would be a way to circulate the funds throughout the community in order to help people stay afloat and to support businesses in Skagway.
Restrictions to the draft would limit payments to year-round residents who have an Alaska driver’s license or voter registration showing residence in the town. Applicants also need to show eligibility for the 2020 PFD.
Assemblyman David Brena suggested that the payments should be limited to the underemployed and unemployed, that those members of the community already working 40 hours a week should not be eligible. He also suggested recipients must have lived in Skagway in 2019.
Brena figures that there are at least 200 full-time city employees and 300 children of non-working age, totalling about 500 people who he believes wouldn’t need checks, leaving more money to distribute to others. Brena would like to see larger checks to fewer people.
“I don’t think $1,000 is going to be sufficient or change anyone’s life who is unemployed or trying to operate a business without any revenue,” said Brena
Assemblymember Jay Burnham said he felt people who are making their regular wage such as city employees and school employees wouldn’t need the assistance.
“I like the intent, but I would hate to see it go into the hands of people who are making six figures in the community or just making their regular wage,” said Burnham.
Steve Burnham added that he felt the assistance checks should be limited to those age 14 and up who are working less than 20 hours per week, noting that two part-time jobs could add up to 40 hours per week.
Burnham says he hears rumors of people “bragging that they were going to get a $5,000 bonus check every month. Some are talking about saving for a vacation,” he said.
Burnham also suggested that retired members of the community should receive checks as “they are more likely to use the funds because they are in Skagway.”
Ryan asked for clarification.
“I’m trying to avoid a management nightmare,” said Ryan.
Ryan said the draft plan would not require additional staffing, but to manage applications that were more complex, as the committee was suggesting, would require the borough to hire an additional employee to handle the process. He noted that the salary for that employee could come from the CARES Act funding.
Steve Burnham said residents should be budgeting on their 40 hours a week, not additional summer income.
Brena took it further.
“Kids don’t support themselves … we want to put the money in the parent’s hands, not create a windfall for a family of six of $6,000 a month,” he said.
“I do not think giving full-time employed people $1,000 a month is any kind of solution.”
At this point, members of the audience asked to speak.
Jamie Bricker cautioned that the 40-hour a week concept does not consider people who might have taken a reduction in salary and that year-round incomes matter.
“Oftentimes people extend themselves financially with a mortgage or other loans based on their entire income,” said Bricker “A lot of people in Skagway work multiple jobs in the summertime to be able to survive the winter and oftentimes their loans are approved on that income,” she said.
Melinda Munson didn’t care for the “windfall” suggestion.
Munson’s family moved to Skagway in March. Her husband, a chef, had a job lined up until the cruise season tanked. She pays over $4,000 a month in rent for her family which includes six children under the age of 18. If the assistance requires a resident to have lived in Skagway in 2019, her family would not be eligible.
“I wouldn’t consider any assistance a windfall,” says Munson, referring to Brena’s comment.
Munson is co-owner of The Skagway News where she says she works for free. “I don’t expect an income until at least July of next year from the paper.”
“We would love to stay. We put ourselves in a position that it cost us so much money to get here. We couldn’t leave and we don’t want to leave. We want to stay.”
(Editor’s note: Munson is co-owner of The Skagway News. She will not be covering this topic.)
Borough treasurer Heather Rodig asked to speak as a citizen on the issue of spending the money locally.
“We don’t normally budget to eat out, but $1,000 is 10 meals out in a month that would help a restaurant in town,” she said.
The conversation changed direction as committee members suggested that perhaps the checks should go to businesses instead of individuals.
Rodig informed the committee that through research, the administration found that any business that receives CARES Act funding would be disqualified for other funding opportunities from the state.
Brena said he hadn’t seen anything that agrees with that and asked Rodig to forward the source of the information.
Rodig, working to clarify the committee’s suggestions, asked Brena if he intended the money to go to the owner or the business and if there was to be a cap on the size of the business.
Brena said the assistance should go to the owner of the business.
The discussion then drifted into the fairness of funding businesses only open in the winter versus those open in the summer before the group decided they needed more time.
The Finance Committee scheduled a special work session on Tuesday, June 2 at 10 a.m. in the Assembly Chambers.
The call-in number for this meeting is 1-888-204-5987, access code 5085533#.
The link to the June 2 meeting agenda is
Assembly and Mayor contact info:
Mayor Andrew Cremata- email@example.com
Steve Burnham Jr. (Vice Mayor) – firstname.lastname@example.org
David Brena – email@example.com
Jay Burnham – firstname.lastname@example.org
Orion Hanson – email@example.com
Dan Henry – firstname.lastname@example.org
Dustin Stone – email@example.com