City proposes CARES Act reappropriation to simplify relief spending

Anchorage City Hall.
Anchorage City Hall. (Alaska Public Media)

The Berkowitz administration has a new plan for the city’s federal CARES Act money, in an effort to simplify funding certain pandemic relief projects.

Instead of using CARES money to pay for jobs programs, a property purchase for homeless services and other projects, the municipality is proposing to use relief money to pay first responders like police, fire and public health workers. Then the general municipal funds that normally pay for first responders would fund the relief projects. 

The reason for the switch goes back to last month, when some Anchorage residents complained to the U.S. Treasury Department about improper use of CARES Act money with the city’s controversial property purchase plan. That project would create additional shelter space and provide social services for homeless people.

Treasury officials never said the city’s plan was an improper use of CARES money, according to Berkowitz chief of staff Jason Bockenstedt. But they said it would be simpler for the city to spend the money on a clearly acceptable use, like first responders, instead of specific projects that may require federal review. 

“They also … I don’t think necessarily want to have to come up with a 70-page FAQ document and approve every single thing that a state or local government is wanting to do with this,” said Bockenstedt.

Bockenstedt said the vast majority of the projects in question have been on hold in the last month while the appropriations issue is sorted out. In addition to jobs programs and the property purchase, those include the construction of the Girdwood Health Clinic, expansion of Food Bank of Alaska, and a rapid rehousing program to help people who have recently become homeless.

The new plan won’t change how much money will fund each of the pandemic relief projects the Assembly approved last month, just which pot the money comes from. If it passes, a little more than half of the city’s $157 million in CARES Act money will go toward first responder payroll. A public hearing on the plan is set for next week’s Assembly meeting.