Pandemic relief program to target struggling Soldotna households

Sep 24, 2020


Individual Soldotna households can apply for coronavirus relief funding this October.

It’s called the Economic Relief for Residents Program, and is the latest in a string of coronavirus relief packages offered by the city of Soldotna. The city is hoping to have the program open between Oct. 1 and Oct. 30, according to John Czarnezki, Soldotna’s director of economic development and planning.

Families that can prove they have been financially impacted by the pandemic can apply for up to $1,500, or as much as is needed to cover their household expenses — whichever is less.

“There are a number of folks struggling to meet daily needs, including things like childcare, and so some of the eligible expenses under this program do include utilities — whether it’s heating, oil, telephone, internet, those types of things,” Czarnezki said. “Groceries, household needs, insurance costs, medical expenses, rents and mortgage, those are some of the basics.”

Note that he was talking about utilities other than water and sewer. Soldotna has already rolled out relief funds for utilities provided by the city, as well as for housing relief, and families should use those pathways when applicable to maximize how much they can receive under this fund.

The city has budgeted about $1.5 million for this program and could serve 1,000 of Soldotna’s 1,800 households if each family receives the maximum aid amount. But city Manager Stephanie Queen told the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday that they’re not yet sure how much people will request.

“Without any precedence, we don’t have good sense of whether we would be really flooded with applications and need,” she said.

If they find the need for funding is less than anticipated, the city might consider doing a second round, in November.

The relief package was passed along with a few other CARES Act packages at the council meeting, including the second phase of the Business Grant Program and individual grants to local nonprofits.

Those grants to nonprofits and this household fund are part of a $7 million-plus package from the federal government that must be spent before 2020 is over.

Homer and Skagway have similar household relief programs, as do other municipalities in the Lower 48. Aside from that, it’s not all that common to see a relief program that targets households rather than small businesses or nonprofits, said Czarnezki.

“We do understand that $1,500 may not go far, but considering we’ve got 1,800 households in the city, the dollars go fast,”Czarnezki said. “And we’re trying to provide assistance wherever we can.”

Nationwide, about 46 percent of households are reporting serious financial concerns caused by the pandemic, according to a poll conducted this summer by Harvard University and NPR.

Here in Soldotna, members of the city council and other elected officials are hearing from their constituents that they’re struggling, said Czarnezki.

To qualify for funding, applicants will have to submit proof that they have been harmed by COVID-19, among other items.

“The program will have a simple, two-page application. It will ask them to essentially self-certify that their household has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Czarnezki said. “They’ll have to provide two forms of identification or copies of their driver’s license or a utility bill. Those types of things. They will also then have to provide proof or payment of invoices for qualifying expenses.”

The city will begin advertising this program shortly, along with the second round of small business assistance funding. Czarnezki said the city will try to process applications as quickly as possible, ideally with a turnaround time of 10 to 14 days.