By Melinda Munson
The Municipality of Skagway made international headlines when the Assembly voted in June to give $1,000 checks to qualified residents each month through December. The Emergency Assistance & Economic Stimulus Program (EAESP), funded through the CARES Act, is intended to help mitigate the $160 million Skagway will lose this summer with the demise of the 2020 cruise ship season due to COVID-19.
The Municipality expected around 700 individuals to apply, based on the number of residents who applied for April’s Emergency Assistance Program which gave $400 to each applicant and $200 to their dependents.
According to Heather Rodig, bureau treasurer, 899 individuals were approved for June checks, about 199 more than anticipated. The checks were mailed out on June 26. That same day, a line formed outside the post office and Skagway’s only bank as residents collected their first payment.
Most of the community applied for the EAES, said Brad Ryan, borough manager.
“You start talking $1,000, that’s an incentive,” Ryan said.
He considers the first month of distributing CARES funds directly to residents a success.
“I hear people talk about the spending that happened right after,” Ryan said. He is pleased so many Skagwegians were approved and believes the money will help local businesses and “offset people’s mental burdens.”
Skagway received $7.4 million in CARES funding. The more funds that are used for direct individual payments, the less funds there are available for a business grant program that is currently being crafted by the Finance Committee.
The Skagway Development Corp. (SDC) originally asked for $2.5 million for Skagway businesses. The current plan awards them $1 million, with the hope of more funds in the future.
Ryan said that as much as he wants to aid local businesses more, “we can’t afford to keep the businesses afloat.”
Beth Smith, who owns a restaurant, bar and hotel in Skagway, said that right now, being a business owner “feels a little lonely.” She’s advocating for the Municipality to award the full amount of funds requested by SDC. Smith noted that individuals can get unemployment but none of the bailout programs such as PPP were designed for Skagway’s unique business model, where year-round businesses stay open off-season at a loss.
“Neglected,” Smith said. I’ve talked to a lot of people and that word has come up quite frequently.”
Mayor Andrew Cremata said he and the Municipality are working hard to aid businesses and are especially concerned about the few businesses that stay open during the winter, but acknowledged there’s a finite amount of resources.
“There’s no way to make up for the $160 million we lost this summer,” he said.
The deadline for this month’s EAESP application is July 10 at 4:59 p.m. Applications can be found at www.skagway.org under government/forms or in the front lobby of City Hall, which is closed except by appointment.
Rodig encouraged residents to fully document eligible expenses. In particular, rent payments can be substantiated with a bank statement or receipt, but cash transfers do not qualify.