Nearly $5 million in grants for households and individuals have been distributed by the City and Borough of Juneau as part of its Household Assistance and Individual Assistance programs.
The federal CARES Act-funded programs went live in October and December, respectively. Both programs got nearly twice the number of expected applicants, said the city’s finance director.
“I would guess that we expected to get half as many as we expected to get. CBJ has never operated a public assistance program. As a municipality we don’t really have the tools to understand what we needed to know for a public assistance program,” said Jeff Rogers in a phone interview. “Alternately, it may be possible that there’s really an extraordinary amount of need in the community.”
The applications were reviewed by Catholic Community Services. More than 900 people applied for the individual assistance program on the first day, said Erin Walker-Tolles, executive director of CCS, in a phone interview. The program eventually received more than 2,800 applications, Walker-Tolles said.
“For the individual assistance, we’re finding that 97% of the people who applied are eligible,” Walker-Tolles said. “We should have enough money to give benefits to everyone who applied on the first day. We are going to run out of funds.”
For the housing assistance, 1,108 households received funding, according to a CBJ news release. The average amount of aid received was $2,708.
“CCS was hit by much greater demand than expected for the housing program and then by much greater demand for the individual assistance program. I think a lot of staff at CCS worked right up to Christmas,” Rogers said. “CCS sends us a list of awardees, and then we make the checks out. That takes about 10 days to get the checks out.”
Checks are currently being mailed for most individual grant recipients. Almost all of the housing grant recipients have received their money, Rogers said. Rogers said he’s unsure if there will be more funding for the housing or individual assistance grants, or what the assembly would do with more aid.
“The Assembly will have to wrestle with that. It’s hard to know because we have no idea how much money there will be,” Rogers said. “Without knowing how much we’d get and what the criteria might be, it’s hard to say.”
The city learned a number of lessons from the process. There were some organizational structures that might have served better in retrospect, Rogers said, but retrospect is always 20/20.
“We did what we had to do,” Rogers said. “We did what we thought was right at the moment. But we operated with very little information.”
The lessons learned from the housing assistance program helped CCS avoid the worst goofs for the individual assistance program, Walker-Tolles said.
“We learned a lot of lessons from the housing program. It made the individual program easier, we included a lot more instructions,” Walker-Tolles said. “We had no prep time. The city just asked us, ‘Can you do this?’ and we said, ‘Sure.’”
Updates on your application
The CCS website posts semi-regular updates on the status of applications at www.ccsak.org. Those who have been approved for assistance are notified by email and can expect checks in the mail within 2-3 weeks. 604 individuals had been approved as of Thursday evening, and roughly 60% of the grant money has been issued.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or email@example.com.