NEW ROUND – Sitka Fire Chief Craig Warren chats with Patrick and Catharine Weaver this afternoon at the fire hall during a COVID-19 vaccination clinic. The Weavers were waiting fifteen minutes after receiving the Moderna version of the COVID-19 vaccine. About 100 Sitkans were scheduled to receive their first dose today. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses for full efficacy. Sitkans can sign up to receive vaccinations at covid19.searhc.org. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Judge Hears Arguments In Virus Relief Aid Case

By BECKY BOHRER
 
The Associated Press

JUNEAU (AP) — A state court judge should block disbursement of federal coronavirus relief aid to small businesses under a reinterpretation of program rules by Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration, an attorney argued Thursday, saying a failure to do so could invite “mischief.”

The request is part of a lawsuit brought by Juneau resident Eric Forrer. Attorney Joe Geldhof, who represents Forrer, asked Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg to require the administration to adhere to rules it proposed and lawmakers ratified. Since the program outline was ratified, the state has sought to expand the rules as a way to provide additional aid to businesses.

Geldhof argued if Pallenberg did not require the administration to follow the standards ratified by the Legislature, “you will be inviting not just mischief but perhaps corruption.” Geldhof said he is trying to avoid a “standard-free” allocation of funds.

Pallenberg did not immediately rule.

The state designated $290 million of the more than $1 billion it received in federal coronavirus relief aid toward a small business program. The program, proposed by the Dunleavy administration and ratified by lawmakers, said businesses that secured federal funds directly available to them under a federal relief law would not qualify.

Forrer, who argues the ratification process itself was problematic, sought a court order that either would halt distributing funds set aside for businesses until lawmakers approve a “valid expenditure” or block spending that does not adhere to the “express terms” lawmakers ratified. Arguments, held by teleconference Thursday, focused on the latter. 

Attorneys for the state, in court documents, said Forrer relies on a “literal application of language” in a program description that they say runs counter to the program’s purposes and ignores the legislative history and context of the coronavirus pandemic. They also say Forrer lacks standing in the case. 

Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton Walsh said the program description also references estimates that businesses could need an average of $30,000 to $50,000 and said it was expected that the least an eligible business could need is $5,000.

When the program plan was drafted, the first round of federal loan funds had been depleted and the second had not been made available, Glenn Hoskinson, a special assistant to Alaska’s commerce commissioner, has said. Hoskinson said the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development also was not aware then that businesses were getting partial amounts of funds requested from the federal programs. 

The department last month announced eligibility changes intended to help more businesses. The changes include allowing businesses that received $5,000 or less in certain federal relief funds to become eligible for the state’s grant program, provided they meet other requirements. 

The state has not yet implemented the changes, Hoskinson said, citing the litigation. 

“It is the State’s position that the changes are permissible and lawful adjustments to the administration of the small business relief program, and we hope to be able to move forward very soon,” she said by email.

The program has gotten off to a slower start than expected. In a recent report to the Legislature, the department cited incomplete applications and a high volume of unnecessary documentation submitted as part of applications as a primary reason for the low number of approvals.

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, chair of the House Labor and Commerce Committee, which has been monitoring the program, said the program is too restrictive. In a statement, the Anchorage Democrat also expressed concern with the time it’s taking for applications to be approved.

 

August 5, 2020

A Note To Our Readers

Reopening: Phase One:

 

On March 30 the Daily Sitka Sentinel began taking precautions against the coronavirus, which was starting to show up in Alaska.

We closed our building to the public and four key employees started working remotely. Home delivery was suspended to protect our carriers from exposure to the virus.

Four months later, the virus is still with us and the precautions remain in effect.

In appreciation for the willingness of our subscribers to pick up their daily paper at drop-off sites, the Sentinel was free to all readers, and subscriptions were extended without charge.

As of August 1 the Sentinel is once again charging for subscriptions, but the present method of having subscribers pick up their papers at designated sites will continue.

The expiration date of all subscriptions has been extended without charge for an additional four months.

We thank our readers for their support in these uncertain times, and especially those who paid for the paper despite the free offer.

We look forward to the time when we can safely resume home delivery.

To check on the expiration of your subscription or to make a payment please call 747-3219. The subscription email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We also will be mailing out reminder cards.

The single copy price is again 75 cents. The news racks do not require coins to open, but we ask that the 75 cents for a non-subscription single copy sale be paid with coins in the slot.

– The Sitka Sentinel Staff

 

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Alaska COVID-19 
At a Glance

(updated 1-15-21)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 10:55 a.m. Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 296

Total statewide – 49,835

Total (cumulative) deaths – 228

Total (cumulative) hospitalizations – 1,126

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

The City of Sitka posted the following update on COVID-19 cases in Sitka as of 5 p.m. Thursday.

Active cases in Sitka – 17

Hospitalizations (cumulative) in Sitka – 5

Cumulative Sitka cases – 301 (274 resident; 27 non-resident)

Cumulative recovered – 281

The local case data are from the City of Sitka website.

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20 YEARS AGO
January 2001

Photo caption: Sarah and Jeremy Pickard and Dr. James Brooks show off Lauren Marie Pickard, the first baby born in Sitka this year. She arrived at Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital at 10:05 a.m., Jan. 4, weighing 7 pounds, 8 ounces and measuring 20 inches. She’s the first child for the Pickards,who moved here in May with the U.S. Coast Guard.

50 YEARS AGO
January 1971

Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Foster and daughter Marchele have ended a two-week vacation trip to Idaho. They bought a new Mustang in Seattle, drove it to Sandpoint, Idaho, to visit relatives and stopped in Everett, Wash., to visit Mrs. Foster’s cousin, whom she hadn’t seen in 13 years. Mrs. Foster and Marchele returned by plane and Foster is following with the car, on the ferry.

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