Juneau City Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly added an additional $2 million in CARES Act money to the city's small business grant program, allowing the next phase of the program to begin sooner. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Next phase of business grants gets boost

Program got an extra $2 million Thursday

An additional $2 million will be going small businesses in Juneau after the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly approved an emergency resolution Thursday evening.

Without the additional funding, the Juneau Economic Development Council, which administers the city’s grants to small businesses, would have had to prorate disbursements, meaning they would have to wait until all applications are fully processed before any money could be sent out.

But businesses need that money now, said Laura Martinson, owner of Caribou Crossings and member of the Economic Stabilization Task Force. The city’s grants were designed to work in phases alongside federal relief money, Martinson told the Empire in a phone interview Friday, and the second phase of the city’s program widened the scope of what funds could be used for.

The federal Paycheck Protection Program provided businesses money to pay their employees and some other limited expenses, Martinson said, but it was too restrictive in what it could pay for.

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

“Phase 2 is different in that it opened up eligibility to use the grant funds,” which is crucial for the different kinds of businesses receiving the money, she said.

In her case, Martinson said she’ll use the money to pay for her inventory, which is mostly works by Alaskan artists. Martinson emphasized the local impact of the city’s grant program.

“Most of that money stays right here in Juneau because all of the bills that we owe are to local vendors,” she said. “The majority of the checks I write stay here in Juneau.”

More than 400 businesses have applied for the city’s grant program, Martinson said, which she said she thinks of as over 400 families and hundreds of jobs being supported.

The $2 million comes from the city’s federal COVID-19 relief money that currently needs to be spent before the end of the year because of a federal deadline. There are bills in Congress to extend the deadline, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, told city leaders to “keep it in your pocket” at Southeast Conference this year, but city leaders have also expressed skepticism toward national politics.

Without the additional funding, JEDC said in a Thursday memo to the Assembly it would have to wait until late October to disperse the next phase of the grants.

“If this Emergency Appropriation Resolution passes, JEDC could begin disbursing eligible grant awards as soon as tomorrow,” the memo said.

Also Thursday, the Assembly voted to allocate $175,000 to the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce for a COVID-19 testing and monitoring program for businesses with willing employees. The program would including testing, both PCR and antigen; as well as regular temperature checks for employees, according to the meeting’s agenda.

In a similar vein, the Assembly also approved $383,775 for Travel Juneau to create a Juneau Cares campaign highlighting the local visitor industry’s commitment to health and safety.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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