Time Limit Near For Fee Subsidies

Category: News
Created on Thursday, 23 July 2020 16:20
Hits: 7486

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

Sitka individuals, businesses and harbor users have another week to apply for subsidies on city utility and moorage bills.

The program is the first part of the city’s distribution of federal CARES Act funding to cover the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It struck me as a way to get money to everybody,” said Thor Christianson, co-sponsor of the subsidy ordinances. “The rules for COVID money are Byzantine but one of the things listed was relief for utility (bills).”

Application forms are available on the city’s COVID website. The deadline for applications is 4 p.m. July 31.

Some $4.5 million was set aside for the utility and harbor subsidy ordinances, which the Assembly passed on June 9. Ordinances are presently in the works for distribution of the majority of the CARES Act funding for Sitka, $14 million. The application period for those grants has not yet been opened.

City officials said that so far 1,550 individuals and businesses have applied for utility help and 425 have applied under the moorage program. Forms have been posted on the city website since June 22.

“It seemed like the best way to get CARES Act money out quickly to as many people as possible,” said Kevin Mosher, the other co-sponsor of the ordinances. “It’s a great way to help those in need.”

The utility subsidy is available to both individuals and businesses, who are eligible for $1,000 and $3,000, respectively. The harbor program offers three months of moorage payments.

There has been some confusion among those applying, finance staff said, resulting in some rejections. The staff today posted an FAQ sheet to clear up some of the questions.

At the top, the application says: “Please submit separate applications for business and residential accounts.”

“It’s one (application) per household or one per business,” said City Controller Melissa Haley. “That’s very clearly written in there and that was clearly the intention of the sponsors.”

Among the mistakes the finance office is seeing include:

– businesses with more than one account applying for multiple subsidies.

– residential account holders with a business in the home applying for the business ($3,000) subsidy, or both the residential and business subsidy.

– people applying both online and on the paper application that was sent out with utility bills.

– applicants failing to check the boxes, attesting that they or a household member have “incurred economic hardship and will continue to face economic hardship” due to the COVID emergency.

“It’s very important, in order to comply with federal guidelines and the ordinance, we need people to check the box,” Haley said. “If they don’t feel they can check the box they shouldn’t apply. We’re not verifying it, and most people probably have and continue to incur economic hardship.”

Christianson said the ordinances were broad in their intent. He believes most residents with utility or moorage accounts would qualify.

“You would be hard-pressed to find someone not negatively affected by COVID,” Christianson said. “It’s not just losing your job, look at your retirement account ... everyone in Sitka has a story about how they’ve been affected. This was a way to pass CARES act money on to the people. I hope it does what it was intended to do.”

Mosher said he had fishermen particularly in mind when he agreed to co-sponsor the moorage program, but all account holders are welcome to apply.

“If you say to yourself, I’m making more money than I did before, then don’t apply,” he said.

Those whose applications have been rejected are being contacted by the finance office, which is offering help with a new application if the applicant is eligible.

“We’re going through them as quickly as possible,” Haley said.

Those with questions are asked to look at the FAQ sheet on the city’s COVID webpage. If further help is needed, residents may call 747-1859.