Alaska Native corporations, the last to get funds from the CARES Act, are struggling to spend it. They have until the end of the year

The eastern plaza of the United States Capitol. (Liz Ruskin / Alaska Public Media)

Alaska Native corporations only recently received nearly half a billion dollars in CARES legislation and are begging Congress to spend more time. The deadline is the end of the year.

Without the extension, businesses only have three weeks to find a licensed way to spend the money, and in some cases, they run into a spending freeze.

The Treasury Department has set aside $ 444 million from the CARES Act to distribute to the NCAs, which include the 12 regions and nearly 200 village societies. But the money was blocked by a lawsuit that the U.S. Supreme Court finally resolved in June. The companies did not receive the money until August, or later. Some village corporations were still awaiting their CARES distribution in December.

“Probably 40-60% of our members are still struggling to put the infrastructure in place to deploy the money, and there just won’t be enough time to do it responsibly, given the on-call – crazy that they have around for what you can spend. on, ”said Hallie Bissett, executive director of the Alaska Native Village Corporation Association.

The money came too late in the season for most villages to ship equipment or building materials by barge. And, according to the rules of the CARES Act, a business cannot exceed the deadline by simply signing contracts or purchasing supplies.

“Things have to be up and running by the 31st, for example,” Bissett said. “It adds its own complexity when you can’t even supply your village. And these are just regular Alaskan supply chain issues. You add on top of that, there’s a kind of supply chain crisis going on at the same time. “

Corporations represent only a small portion of the expenses of the CARES Act. The 2020 law provided $ 150 billion to states, local governments and tribes.

In the beginning, the deadline was the end of 2020, so every governing body was in a great hurry to use or lose their money. Many tribes in Alaska have paid the bulk of their CARES Act allowance directly to their members to cover pandemic needs. This meant that some of the easy spending opportunities had already been seized when companies got their share.

Consider the Stebbins Village Corporation dilemma. Stebbins is a community of about 600 people on Norton Sound. In August, the village corporation received approximately $ 250,000 from the CARES Act. With only a few months to spend it, the fastest would have been to distribute it to shareholders.

But by that time, the Stebbins tribe had already received nearly $ 10 million in COVID, CARES and American Rescue Plan relief funds.

“So the first thing that happens is that the tribes have been given the opportunity to allocate funds to tribal members to help them as individuals,” said Keith Tryck, consultant for Stebbins Village Corp. “Well the point is, you can’t go. and double dip.

Tryck means that if a household asked the tribe for CARES money, for example, to buy laptops for their children for distance education, then got money from the regional company to pay the internet bill, the village society could not pay this household for the same expenses.

This left the village corporations looking for documented needs that larger organizations missed, Tryck said.

“So you start to see that there is an administrative conundrum, almost an enigma which is very difficult for anyone who does not have major administrative capacity,” he said.

What’s so frustrating, Tryck said, is that the company has spent resources on pandemic needs, but at the heart of the matter, no one has known, say, how many days a store employee from the village switched to packing food baskets to distribute to households during the lockdown.

And there is a lot more need. Stebbins needs a water and sewer system. The village corporation has equipment they could deploy to help build it, Tryck said. But not if the deadline is in three weeks.

Large regional companies are also facing the deadline.

Cook Inlet Region Inc. has obtained $ 112 million from the CARES Act. The money arrived in August.

Senior Director of Corporate Affairs Ethan Tyler said CIRI has spent some of it on meeting the immediate household needs of its shareholders and their descendants. CIRI would like to fund larger efforts, Tyler said, to meet long-term needs.

“But we are facing this perfect storm of supply chain disruptions and labor shortages,” he said. “And all of this in the context of a deadline that we try to meet while remaining within the law.”

The United States House and Senate have each passed bills to move the deadline to the end of next year. But the bills are different. Senator Murkowski said on Wednesday she was working on the phone to get both houses of Congress to pass the same extension before lawmakers left for the Christmas recess.

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