Federal CARES Act money helped Southeast weather COVID

But most of the money has been spent, and local governments are still hurting.

The COVID 19 pandemic has made the past 10 months financially difficult for local governments in Southeast Alaska as they’ve grappled with revenue losses and increased expenditures related to the virus.

“Southeast Alaska experienced the pandemic differently than most of Alaska due to tourism and travel,” said Nils Andreassen, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League, in a phone interview. “The region is hurting in different ways.”

[City votes to create spending plan with federal deadline looming]

He added that the region has seen success in many areas through robust virus mitigation strategies, but local governments are still asking how best to support residents during very trying times.

Federal CARES Act money has helped local governments weather the storm.

“So far, the CARES Act money has been an incredible buffer against collapse so we could get through the health and economic emergencies. The majority of it went out to support businesses and residents, but it didn’t make local governments whole,” Andreassen said.

“Local governments still need to meet obligations, such as public safety and public education,” he said.

In late December, Congress offered an extension to the spending deadline, adding an additional year for state and local governments to spend CARES money.

“The extension was too little, too late. It was fairly meaningless,” Andreassen said.

[All housing and most personal assistance grants processed]

“Most money was already spent. But local governments do have an opportunity to do something with what’s left. It’s a waiting game to figure out what’s next,” he added.

As local governments try to figure out how to meet needs, President-Elect Joe Biden announced a new relief package that includes money for state and local governments.

“I have to hold out hope” for more money. “I don’t think it will be quick. I expect to see the sentiment of stepping back to assess needs. We need to make the case for who’s hurting,” Andreassen said.

As the Legislature returns to Juneau and begins the budget for fiscal year 2022, he expects local governments will see scrutiny from lawmakers over how CARES money was spent locally, since its distribution to local governments circumvented the traditional legislative approach.

“I hope the next few months are not full of recriminations for how money was spent, but that we celebrate how we managed a hugely challenging time,” he said.

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

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