On Wednesday night, the Finance Committee will meet to discuss the future of the Household Assistance and Individual Assistance programs. The programs, which are were funded with federal CARES Act money, aim to help people who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

CBJ Finance Committee to consider expanding relief programs

With nearly $5 million already distributed, more need remains.

On Wednesday night, the City and Borough of Juneau Finance Committee will discuss the Household Assistance and Individual Assistance program’s direction.

CBJ has already distributed nearly $5 million in grants as part of the programs, which were funded with federal CARES Act money last year and aimed to help people who are experiencing financial hardships because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

All housing and most personal assistance grants processed

At their Jan. 25 meeting, the assembly voted to move $700,000 originally slated for COVID-19 testing equipment at Bartlett Regional Hospital to the Individual Assistance Fund.

Assembly member Alicia Hughes-Skandijs suggested the move in a previous finance committee meeting. The assembly will make a final decision about how to allocate the additional funds on Feb. 8.

“I don’t see a way we don’t put more money in individual assistance account. We don’t have the luxury of time. If you are a single parent not used to paying child care because schools are closed, you don’t have the luxury of time. We owe it to the people in this community to treat them with the same care we showed our businesses,” Hughes-Skanijs said at the January Finance Committee meeting.

However, other assembly members preferred to move more cautiously, suggesting a pause to do more research and learn more.

“A pause lets us get a better understanding of need, what the federal money will do and where it will come from. It looks like we have a really strong need at the individual level. I think we should pause but not for long. We need to be a little more methodical than we’ve been here,” said assembly member Michelle Bonnet Hale at the January meeting.

Since the last meeting, assembly members have taken a more in-depth look at the issue.

“What we know is that there is a considerable need and that it is an immediate need for individuals who qualified,” said Assembly member Christine Woll in an email earlier this week.

State will audit CARES Act funding

“We are working on assessing all the CARES funding that has not been yet allocated, or could be re-allocated, which of these might make the most sense to instead allocate to the Individual Assistance program. I’d like to see us add funds to the individual assistance program by reallocating the funds related to expenses most likely to be covered by future federal relief efforts,” Woll added.

Assembly member Carole Triem agreed that more action is needed.

“This is the first time the city has set up public assistance programs. I think we were all surprised by the true need. I wish we had taken it up sooner. We are kind of kicking ourselves,” Triem said in a Jan. 22 phone interview.

During a phone interview on Tuesday, Hale said that she’s been researching the categories of people who most need assistance and will bring ideas to the meeting Wednesday night.

“We want to get some money to the neediest people in Juneau,” Hale said. “Lots of people fall through the cracks. This assembly is very, very concerned about everyone — our businesses, our residents, and our neediest population,” Hale said.

• Contact Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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