Assembly nixes CARES Act requests from food security groups


July 30, 2020

On July 23, the Haines Borough Assembly’s ad hoc CARES Act committee rejected proposals from two Chilkat Valley food security groups. Discussion at the meeting revealed the groups and assembly members differed in their definitions of food security.

Over the course of the past few months, the assembly has been working to finalize a spending plan for roughly $4 million the borough is scheduled to receive through the CARES Act, a federal coronavirus recovery package passed this spring.

In June, the assembly approved $100,000 in CARES Act funding for food security, including $10,000 for Mosquito Lake Community Center operating expenses and $58,000 to expand Haines Senior Center’s meal service.

At the July 23 meeting, the ad hoc committee, which consists of assembly members Brenda Josephson, Jerry Lapp and Stephanie Scott, proposed giving the remaining $32,000 to the Salvation Army to help fund food boxes with the specification that food be purchased locally. The full assembly approved this expenditure the following week.

At the same July 23 meeting, the ad hoc committee dismissed funding requests from Erika Merklin and Sue Chasen for two distinct food security programs.

Merklin, who spearheaded the creation of a victory garden at the Mosquito Lake Community Center, put forward a $78,000 proposal to fund equipment purchases and staff time to preserve food harvested at the victory garden, and offer classes to teach community members the skills to do the same with their own gardens.

Chasen submitted a proposal on behalf of the Food Security Strategy Group, a Haines Economic Development Corporation subcommittee working to promote local agricultural endeavors. Chasen proposed a data-collection effort to inventory food storage needs to allow local growers to produce more food in future years. The proposal asked for $12,000 in CARES Act funding.

In separate interviews after the meeting, Chasen, Merklin and Josephson acknowledged that there appeared to be a difference between the assembly’s understanding of food security in the context of the CARES Act and that of food security groups.

For Merklin, food security is something sustainable. She referenced the four pillars of food security--availability, access, utilization and stability--according to the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), an international organization that reports to the United Nations. The CFS defines food security as “when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

“It’s not just a one-time government dole out but about starting something with momentum to carry us forward,” Merklin said.

However, assembly members held a different view.

“The funding was always supposed to be about direct food on the table,” Josephson said. “Somehow (food security) got morphed into a completely different conversation.”

Chasen said if she had understood the assembly’s intent, she wouldn’t have wasted time submitting a proposal.

“Previously, I didn’t know what criteria they were using, but it became very clear what their criteria was—food on the table,” Chasen said. “I can understand that… but those of us who submitted other proposals thought the definition was somewhat broader.”

Merklin and Chasen both said they support funding for the Salvation Army. However, Merklin lamented the lack of funding for more long-term food security projects.

“It’s much more of a short-term, Band-aid program, instead of any sort of community involvement in how to increase our own resilience and increase abundance,” Merklin said.

The CARES Act requires money be used exclusively to cover “necessary expenditures incurred due to…COVID-19” between March 1 and Dec. 30 of this year.

Merklin said her proposal fits this definition. It deals with immediate food preservation needs with the added benefit of giving people the tools and knowledge to continue to preserve food in future years, much like the CARES Act-funded ambulance and morgue the assembly approved earlier this year will have immediate use and continuing use in future years.

Josephson said she sees a distinction between using CARES Act funding for an ambulance and using funding to start a food preservation program operated out of the Mosquito Lake Community Center. She said she doesn’t think CARES Act funding should be used to create new programs that may not be sustainable, citing the fact that the Mosquito Lake Community Center had been eliminated from the borough’s budget until it was added back at the last minute with assistance from the CARES Act.

Josephson said she appreciates input from food security groups, but the priority needs to be feeding people through the end of the year.

“We’ve got unlimited needs and limited resources. We’ve got to meet the basic needs to residents, not start new programs,” Josephson said.

Merklin and Chasen said although it seems unlikely that they will receive borough CARES Act funding to support their projects, they are still committed to working to increase food security in the Chilkat Valley.

Merklin said she doesn’t think lack of funding for food preservation means the victory garden’s produce will go to waste this year. She is moving forward with volunteer-led efforts at the Mosquito Lake Community Center including cleaning out the center’s garage. The project was completed this week and the garage is now available for food storage.

Chasen said she will pursue other grants to support a regional approach to food security. Earlier this year, she successfully applied for a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to examine fruit orchard potential in the Chilkat Valley.

Salvation Army lieutenant Kevin Woods didn’t respond to requests for comment about the organization’s funding needs. Josephson said the assembly hasn’t received a funding request from the Salvation Army and plans to reach out to get a better understanding of the organization’s needs through the end of the year.


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