Ketchikan’s borough now has a plan to spend every last dollar of federal coronavirus relief before the end of the year. That’s after the Borough Assembly green-lit another $350,000 to bolster a rent and mortgage relief program. It also allocated more funds for pandemic-related expenses for the local government.
Officials originally proposed putting a full half-million towards the borough’s housing relief program. That’s the program that authorizes $1,200 monthly payments to landlords and mortgage lenders for households earning less than about $84,000 a year and have lost income due to the pandemic. The program was created in July but is projected to run out of funds next month.
(James Johnson of Community Connections, the nonprofit that administers the housing program, told KRBD Friday that it’s unlikely the city’s portion of rent and mortgage relief would run out before the end of the year.)
But Borough Finance Director Cynna Gubatayao said the program could be sustained through the end of December with less. She also reminded the assembly that unspent CARES Act funds in 2021 will have to be returned to the federal government.
So Assembly Member Sven Westergard suggested splitting the difference by putting more towards reimbursing borough expenses: namely protective equipment and gear not paid for by FEMA or other grant programs. Assembly Member Jeremy Bynum said he thought that was fair.
“And that overall would benefit the whole community as a whole equally with the remainder of the funds,” Bynum said.
Westergard also floated another round of child care assistance grants — $500 direct payments for anyone with a child that said they’d taken a financial hit. But the borough’s legal counsel — who’s also a member of KRBD’s nonprofit board of directors — said the housing program was more in-line with federal guidance.
So the assembly voted unanimously to designate $350,000 for rent and mortgage assistance. That includes a bit of a cushion over officials’ estimates, but anything left over from that and other programs will be put back towards reimbursing pandemic-related government expenses and first responders’ salaries outside city limits. That’ll be at least $265,000.
In other business, the assembly heard from pandemic response officials, including the head of Ketchikan’s hospital and the area’s lead state public health nurse.
PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center Chief Administrative Officer Dori Stevens said the local hospital was well-equipped to handle up to 13 severe COVID-19 patients at a time. Other hospital wings could also be repurposed to expand that capacity further.
But Stevens pleaded with residents to make sure that those limits aren’t tested. That means wearing masks, washing hands, keeping distance and limiting gatherings and travel.
“And I can’t say enough to please limit traveling over the holidays, and other Outside — and keep the holiday dinners very small to only be your immediate household. I just can’t stress the importance enough of this to try to keep our numbers down so that we don’t put a stress on our healthcare system here,” Stevens said.
An outbreak that spread rapidly in town starting in late October appears to be fading. The number of active infections fell by 20 on Monday and 10 on Tuesday. Some 20 people are COVID-19 positive in Ketchikan as of Tuesday afternoon.