Stedman Aims Federal COVID Aid to Ferries

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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At a Glance

(updated 5-30-2023)

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 12:15 pm Tuesday, May 30.

New cases as of Tuesday: 165

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 298,078

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,468

Case Rate per 100,000 – 22.64

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

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "Low.'' Case statistics are as of Tuesday.

Case Rate/100,000 – 58.70

Cases in last 7 days – 5

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,424

Deceased (cumulative) – 10

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.






June 2003

Sitka Community Hospital board of directors has asked SEARHC to stop providing most health care services to non-beneficiary patients. “During the collaborative process SEARHC has said they’re happy to do anything they can do to help,” said SCH Administrator Bill Patten. “This is one of the things they can do – not provide services to non-beneficiaries.”



June 1973

What began 50 years ago in a Methodist parsonage in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, will be celebrated Sunday in Sitka. Les and Caroline Yaw’s four children invite the couple’s many, many friends to attend a golden wedding anniversary reception at the Centennial Building.