SMOOTH SAILING – A troller cruises across Sitka Sound during a hazy sunset Friday evening. (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.

 

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 8-4-20)

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 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.

New cases as of Monday: 59

Total statewide – 3,394

Total (cumulative) deaths – 25

Active cases in Sitka – 17 (12 resident; 5 non-resident) *

Recovered cases in Sitka – 15 (11 resident; 4 non-resident) *

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 136.

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

* These numbers reflect State of Alaska data. Local cases may not immediately appear on DHSS site, or are reported on patient’s town of residence rather than Sitka’s statistics. 

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Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

The Sentinel is calling upon its customers to observe the COVID-19 emergency precautions already in place, particularly in maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at newspaper distribution sites.

Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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20 YEARS AGO
August 2000

The School Board Tuesday discussed district policy on head lice. At present, students found to have head lice are kept from school until all lice are removed. The revised policy allows students who have nits to remain in school, with information on treatment and a nit-removing comb to be sent home with them.

50 YEARS AGO
August 1970

Legal notice: Sealed bids will be received ... for furnishing and installation of siding on the City
Garage, located on Halibut Point Road. ... City of Sitka, Alaska Fermin Gutierrez, Director of Public Works. 

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