Skagway to offer direct aid to residents affected by halted tourism season

A Disney cruise ship tied up at Skagway’s ore dock. (Photo by Emily Files/KHNS)

Tourism is Skagway’s main economy and residents rely on the summer cruise ship season for income. Just ask the people who live there.

Courtnay Thoe is a waitress at the seasonal Sweet Tooth Cafe downtown and her husband works for White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad, a sightseeing rail tour. She said they work as much in eight months as most people do in a year. Or, worked. The cruise season is on hold — likely canceled due to ports being closed up and down the Pacific.

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“Our entire financial infrastructure is collapsed. We have savings. We haven’t applied for unemployment yet, but I see that coming,” said said.

That’s why Skagway’s assembly passed two direct aid resolutions this week. One is a one-time cash payout of $400 to any Skagway resident that is in need as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. There’s an additional $200 for a spouse and each dependent.

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The other is reimbursement for medevac insurance purchased between March 1st and June 30th this year. The money will come from sales tax savings when the borough reallocates $200,000 for coronavirus relief at the assembly meeting later this month. Checks could go out as soon as the next day.

The residency criteria is either a current voter registration card or Alaska driver’s license and the applicant must be currently present in Skagway with a Skagway mailing address.

According to Finance Committee Chair and Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr. direct aid to individuals is possible because Skagway has the rare combination of a robust tourist economy and a small local population.

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“We’re not a huge year round community. We have like 1200 registered voters,” he said.

According to the municipal treasurer, Skagway has a couple of years worth of operational costs saved up.

Borough manager Brad Ryan said the municipality was saving money for a rainy day…and some big capital improvements projects. Current events have taken precedence.

“And so we’ve really been sitting on and saving some sales tax as well as our CPV funds to invest in the port,” he said. “So now we have a savings of sales tax in particular that we’re using for this, that we can use as a small amount of cash to hopefully help people buy food or whatever necessary resources they need right now.”

The municipality is in the planning stages of a broader relief plan called the Skagway Deal–the name is a riff on President Roosevelt’s New Deal, a series of initiatives during the Great Depression. The goal of this local deal is similar. Ideas range from property tax forgiveness and power subsidies to grants and capital projects.

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Thoe said she and her husband haven’t applied for unemployment…yet. So the one time payout is a good step. “$600 is is your $400 rather’s, it’s, it’s generous. I appreciate it. But it’s not the same as having a job that I can go to every day,” Thoe said.

She said she can’t think too far in the future without extreme stress; she doesn’t foresee the cruise economy that sustained their lifestyle bouncing back quickly. But she’s taking things one day at a time and no matter what happens she plans to stay in Skagway.

Skagway’s residents may access an application form here.