Alaska banks can’t keep up with demand for coronavirus relief money

The shopfront of Anchorage restaurant Turkish Delight reflects the times (Hannah Lies/Alaska Public Media)

Demand is so high for Paycheck Protection loans and grants that some banks are calling a time out.

Both First National Bank of Alaska and Northrim Bank say they’re already inundated and have suspended accepting new PPP applications. AlaskaUSA Federal Credit Union is accepting applications from members only.

The bottleneck is becoming evident just as the PPP opens to a wider swath of the population: Self-employed Americans and independent contractors are allowed to turn in their applications starting April 10, assuming they can find a lender willing to accept them.

Congress created the $350 billion Paycheck Protect Program last month to help keep small businesses afloat during the COVID-19 economic shutdown. The government-guaranteed loans and grants are a centerpiece of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act.

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But the coronavirus relief funds are not flowing freely. At a telephonic town hall Thursday, Alaska’s U.S. senators heard from several business owners who said they’ve been unable to get financial help from CARES Act programs.

A commercial fisherman told them the state turned him down for unemployment benefits, even though Congress specifically expanded eligibility to include fishermen.

RELATED: New unemployment benefits are here, but laid-off workers are having trouble getting applications processed

Sen. Lisa Murkowski said it will take time for lenders and government agencies to retool so they can disburse the money Congress appropriated. And, she said, Congress needs to do more.

“The need is unprecedented,” she said. “We’re trying to be as responsive as we can. But we know that there are gaps. We know we have undershot in certain areas … where we know we have not anticipated the need appropriately and we need to put more resources in.”

Both she and Sen. Dan Sullivan say Alaskans who are having trouble accessing CARES Act programs should contact their offices.

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