Ketchikan’s borough will soon funnel direct federal pandemic relief payments to families with children. And another $1.5 million is available for local small businesses. That’s after Ketchikan’s borough government approved another roughly $2.9 million in CARES Act economic relief programs.
Child care assistance and other CARES Act updates
Ketchikan’s city council set aside $350,000 for child care assistance earlier this year — it’s a portion of the more than $12 million the city got in federal CARES Act money. But those grants are targeted at state-licensed child care providers — think daycare centers.
But the borough’s top finance official, Cynna Gubatayao, says that leaves a gap.
“There’s a serious shortage of licensed daycare facilities, so that if you target only the licensed daycares, you’re missing a lot of children because there simply aren’t enough spaces for them,” Gubatayao told the assembly.
The solution, she says, is to make direct payments to families. That would allow them to pay for childcare in their own way: by providing one-time payments of $500 per child age 12 or younger.
That could be friends, babysitters, church parishioners — or, of course, licensed daycares.
To satisfy federal requirements, the child care payment program is only open to people who have taken a financial hit from the pandemic. But the borough’s interpretation of that is pretty expansive — “any financial inconvenience,” in the borough’s parlance. That could mean lower wages, higher bills or other unforeseen costs.
Residential Youth Care, a Ketchikan-based nonprofit, will administer the program. Dustin Larna is heading up the group’s effort, and he says there really aren’t any strings attached to that $500 per child.
“So it doesn’t have to be that you’re directly using the funds to pay somebody else to provide child care,” Larna said in a phone interview.
He says that $500 could go towards reimbursing past child care. Or, really, anything else.
“It could be to offset increased expenses from — let’s say, somebody, due to school being closed this spring or starting late this fall, somebody’s not able to work as much as they usually would because they need to be home caring for their children,” Larna said.
Larna emphasized that the application for child care assistance is simple — it doesn’t require pay stubs or tax returns. It’s available online, even on smartphones.
“Err on the side of filling out the application,” he said. “The goal is to provide assistance to as many eligible people as we can.”
The borough assembly unanimously voted to set aside $1 million for the child care program.
Applications for child care assistance are live on RYC’s website, rycalaska.org, and Larna says the nonprofit plans to start processing applications on August 24. Applications are slated to close September 30.
Applications can also be picked up in person at RYC’s office at 2506 First Avenue.
The assembly also unanimously approved another round of funding for two existing programs: roughly $1.5 million for small businesses and another $350,000 for local nonprofits. Another $25,000 is earmarked for the Alaska Municipal League.
In the interest of full disclosure, KRBD intends to seek additional funding from the nonprofit support program.
That leaves about $1.2 million, or about 12%, of the borough’s CARES Act money unallocated. Some could go towards reimbursing pandemic-related borough expenses — or fund a grant program for artists who usually rely on business income from visitors. Here’s Assembly Member Sven Westergard musing about what he’d like to see in the next round of funding.
“There’s a lot of arts in this town — arts is kind our fire that breathes, especially in the dark of winter. Maybe ask the question of the Arts Council, and see what kind of numbers they’re looking at,” Westergard said.
In other business at Monday’s meeting, Ketchikan’s borough assembly won’t join the local city council in asking the state to beef up its travel restrictions. That’s after the assembly voted 6-1 to reject a resolution that would have asked the state to require a 14-day quarantine for both in-state and out-of-state travelers.
Assistant Borough Manager Deanna Thomas told the assembly that Ketchikan’s top pandemic responders — the emergency operations center, or EOC — don’t currently think clamping down on travel is necessary. Thomas pointed out that a risk analysis tool used by local officials currently says Ketchikan is at low risk of a widespread outbreak.
“The Ketchikan EOC recommends continued tracking of active COVID-19 cases in Ketchikan. If the rate of infection begins to escalate beyond the low risk category, then additional measures might be supported,” Thomas said, reading recommendations from the EOC’s “policy group” — mayors, managers and other top local officials.
Assembly members considered several tweaks — like a voluntary, rather than mandatory, quarantine, and a proposal that would have simply required testing for in-state travelers, without a quarantine — but, in the end, rejected them all. Felix Wong, one of the resolution’s co-sponsors, explained his reasoning:
“Perhaps it is better for us at the borough level to seek to postpone this agenda indefinitely given that the city of Ketchikan is going to send what would essentially be different message from us,” Wong said. The city’s resolution asks the state for a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all travelers.
Austin Otos, the other co-sponsor, was the only vote in favor as the request for stiffer travel mandates failed 6-1.