CARES Act aid totals $8 million for businesses, nonprofits in town

Wrangell businesses and nonprofits received more than $8 million in federal and state CARES Act funds last year. "It absolutely made a difference, but it still wasn't enough," said Carol Rushmore, Wrangell's economic development director.

"It's not making them whole, by any means," Rushmore said Jan. 14. "There are some businesses really hurting."

For many businesses that rely on tourism, there is hope that visitor traffic will pick up this year. "We will see visitors coming to help," but short of pre-pandemic 2019 capacity, she said.

Of last year's $8 million in assistance, about $3.57 million went to 80 Wrangell businesses through the AK CARES program, managed by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. The state allocated $290 million to the business grant program from the $1.25 billion in funds Alaska received under last year's federal CARES Act.

More than $2.6 million of the AK CARES money in Wrangell went to commercial fisherman, said Robert Venables, executive director of the Southeast Conference, an organization of municipal governments and chambers of commerce from throughout the Panhandle.

The program was limited to businesses with no more than 50 employees.

Retail businesses in Wrangell received $177,000 in AK CARES funds, and $115,000 went to restaurants and accommodations, according to the Southeast Conference numbers.

Southeast-wide, businesses received $62 million in AK CARES money, Venables said Jan. 14.

In addition to the money through the state program, direct federal funds totaled $4.55 million to Wrangell businesses and nonprofits, said Jon Bitner, executive director of the Alaska Small Business Development Center, part of the University of Alaska Anchorage Business Enterprise Institute.

Of that, about $2.2 million came through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which distributed forgivable loans intended to keep employees on the payroll during pandemic shutdowns and slowdowns. The program sent PPP funds to 115 Wrangell entities, Bitner said.

About $2.3 million went to 100 Wrangell businesses and nonprofits through the federal Economic Injury Disaster Loans program, Bitner said. The long-term loans offered low interest rates and deferred payments.

Some organizations received funding through more than one of the CARES Act programs, he explained.

Early in the pandemic-induced closures, the borough estimated sales tax receipts could drop by as much as half for the fiscal year that started July 1, 2020, said Wrangell Borough Manager Lisa Von Bargen. The borough in Fiscal Year 2020 collected $1.65 million in sales taxes, comprising about 37% of municipal revenues.

But sales tax revenue for the July-September quarter was down only 20%, she said. Tax returns for the October-December quarter are due by the end of January.

The community may have fared in these two quarters "better than we expected," Von Barger said, but she is concerned that will not continue. She worries that spending slowed into the winter as federal relief checks and expanded unemployment benefits ran out.

"We are concerned that the impacts to the short-term and overall economy may be delayed," she said.

If more federal aid flows to the state and out to municipalities, the borough manager would like to see additional grants to local businesses.

Separate from federal and state assistance to businesses and nonprofits, the Wrangell Borough received $3.85 million in CARES Act funds last year as its share of $568 million in federal aid allocated by the state to cities and


Wrangell used the money to buy a new ambulance and protection equipment for crews, pay for COVID-19 testing for seafood processor workers, buy supplies for the schools, help cover police and fire payrolls, and provide marketing assistance to help the town's economy recover post-pandemic. The municipality also used CARES Act funding for a variety of community and business support grants.

Advocating for additional COVID-19 financial support is also part of the borough's legislative priorities for 2021-2022.


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