TREE LIGHTING – Sitkans gather next to a decorated spruce tree across from City Hall Saturday. Scores turned out for the Chamber of Commerce’s holiday celebration that included caroling, a tree lighting hosted by Mrs. Santa Claus, and remarks by Chamber of Commerce member Loren Olsen and City Administrator John Leach encouraging people to shop in town during the holiday season. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Stedman Aims Federal COVID Aid to Ferries

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

The Legislature may be in recess, but lawmakers are still busy putting the pieces in place for getting federal help to communities affected by COVID-19.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, spoke to the Sentinel about federal help coming to the state through the $2.2  trillion CARES Act, passed by Congress to shore up the economy in response to the pandemic.

Stedman said some $1.25 billion is headed to the state, plus $38 million for K-12 education and $8.5 million for the university system.

Although details are still being worked out, some CARES Act relief is intended to help extend unemployment benefits for those who lost jobs due to the virus.

Precise dollar amounts are not yet known, but Stedman said there is also CARES funding for communities to address the virus itself, funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, municipal assistance, children’s and family services, Medicaid and for the economic effects on municipalities of the decline of tourism and fishing industries.

“We’re waiting for guidance right now from the federal treasury on CARES,” Stedman said.

Sen. Bert Stedman (Sentinel File Photo)

He’s expecting the state to receive the funds on Friday or the next Monday.

The state must act quickly to get funds to the communities and citizens before the Legislature adjournment date in May. Also, “the communities and people need the money as soon as possible,” Stedman said.

He added that lawmakers are staying in touch with communities in their districts to make sure they are accounting for the financial impacts of COVID-19. (City Administrator John Leach said he sent estimates to Stedman’s office today.)

Stedman said he is working closely with the governor’s office.

“We’re trying to make the process as smooth as possible and as quick as possible,” he said. 

Community impacts include the losses in sales and bed taxes, and from the drop in cruise ship visitors, charter fishing, independent tourism and mandatory business closures. The pandemic is also hurting many other industries, such as fishing. (COVID has been cited as one of the reasons there was no herring sac roe fishery this year.)

The CARES Act funds should help compensate communities that are suffering losses, Stedman said.

“We’re trying to keep things as stable as absolutely possible,” the senator said. “Those funds should hit the treasury Friday or Monday and the Legislature wants to move the monies along to impacted communities.”

Stedman represents Sitka, Ketchikan and several other communities in Southeast. He is co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the chairman in charge of these appropriations bills. 

Through an economic stimulus bill in the works in Congress, Stedman said he plans to direct some of that money toward the Alaska Marine Highway System, to “supplement funds lost due to the virus,” he said.

“The Marine Highway is not out of the discussion from any of these bills,” Stedman said. “We’re trying to maintain our transportation system.”

On April 16 the ferry system cited the coronavirus as the reason for a dramatic decline in riders. On March 28 a state COVID-19 emergency mandate prohibiting “nonessential travel” went into effect.

Speaking of the actions by the people of Sitka and other communities in his district, Stedman said:

“I just want to thank the community for being responsive with community separation and wearing masks as a defensive measure,” he said. “We have not become a hot spot in our community ... I want to thank everyone for taking it seriously and protecting the community.”

City Administrator John Leach declared a local disaster emergency on March 15, and it was confirmed by the Assembly in a resolution. The declared purpose was to “activate the response and recovery aspects” of state and local emergency plans, and authorize the furnishing of aid under those plans.

The process for requesting public assistance from FEMA started on April 2, with confirmation coming through on April 6. This help is restricted to direct COVID costs, such as supplies, and equipment.

The question of help from the state is another matter.

“We look forward to receiving assistance from the state because it is desperately needed,” said Jay Sweeney, Sitka’s chief finance and administrative officer. “Once we know the guidelines and requirements for assistance and accessing the aid then we’ll be in a better position to answer questions and understand how much help is coming to Sitka.”

“We have a really good sense of how this crisis is impacting municipal things,” Sweeney said. “What is more difficult, though, is understanding how this crisis is impacting the overall financial health of this municipality. That is because we do not have immediate access to data concerning private business, such as their levels of unemployment, their loss business, cancellations in bookings. ... What we have is anecdotal at this point.”

 

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Alaska COVID-19 
At a Glance

(updated 12-3-21)

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 10:21 a.m. Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 312

Total statewide – 146,558

Total (cumulative) deaths – 853

Total (cumulative) hospitalizations – 3,117

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

COVID in Sitka

The COVID alert rate for Sitka is “high,” based on 13 new resident COVID cases in the past 7 days, a rate of 152.52 per 100,000 population. Case statistics are as of Thursday.

New cases in Sitka – 2

Cases in last 7 days – 13

Cumulative Sitka cases – 1,142

Cumulative non-resident cases – 102

Unique positive cumulative test results in Sitka, as of 11/26/21 – 1,266

Deceased (cumulative) – 5

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

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20 YEARS AGO
December 2001

Photo caption: Cathy Hanson shovels snow off the sidewalk in front of Russell’s today. What started as a few flakes Monday evening had mounted to an estimated half-foot by noon today. More was forecast but rain is possible Wednesday.

50 YEARS AGO
December 1971 

Several fish fatalities resulted Monday night when a car apparently went out of control, ran off Halibut Point Road and slammed into the rear of Sitka Petland Store. Vibrations shattered fish tanks, and several hundred dollars worth of tropical fish were casualties.

 

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