ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska’s $290 million financial assistance program for small businesses impacted by the coronavirus will no longer exclude companies that already received small amounts of federal aid, officials said.
The rule change follows an outcry from businesses and legislators who believe the rules were overly restrictive, The Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday.
Alaska Department of Commerce Commissioner Julie Anderson told the Alaska House Finance Committee Tuesday the new rules will permit applicants receiving $5,000 or less in direct aid from the federal government.
Alaska’s aid program distributes grants of $5,000 to $100,000. The funds can be used for rent, utilities and other expenses that are tough to pay because of the pandemic’s economic fallout.
Rules put in place when the program began June 1 “created a huge gap in the program and some unintended consequences,” Anderson said.
The expanded applicant pool will include beneficiaries of the federal Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan.
Businesses will not be excluded from the state program for receiving help from municipal programs funded by the federal government.
The state also opened up the program to chambers of commerce. Some nonprofit organizations have already received permission to apply.
Businesses that received more than $5,000 in federal aid can return those funds to become eligible for the state program, Anderson said.
Commerce department officials previously said they could not change the rules barring federal aid recipients because the Alaska Legislature passed the rule into law. But the Alaska Department of Law said Tuesday it had reinterpreted the matter.
State lawyers considered “legislative intent” and concluded the goal of lawmakers was not to prohibit federal aid recipients, Assistant Attorney General Bill Milks said.
The reinterpretation was made in spite of language ratified by the Legislature specifically stating businesses receiving federal funds “do not qualify” for state aid.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.