One of the most frustrating things coming out of Covid-19 for fishermen and coastal businesses is how to apply for the many relief fund options available, or finding someone who can answer questions. Help is one click or phone call away for those who live in the Southwest Alaska region –

“Super easy. You go to one screen and everything that’s available comes up and it shows you what you’re eligible for, what you might be eligible for and what you’re not eligible for.”

Shirley Marquardt is executive director of the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference which serves regional boroughs of the Aleutian/Pribilofs, Bristol Bay, Kodiak and the Lake and Peninsula.

SWAMC received relief funds to create  a free, online portal called FORWARD that cuts through the red tape for finding loans, grants, tax deferrals and more. Marquardt calls it a ‘one stop shop for help.

“It takes the mystery and mystique out of how to get help. It shows you right there, boom – look at all these things that are available. Which ones fit you. Oh look – this and this. Want to apply? Click apply!”

What’s best about the FORWARD program is that a friendly voice will answer or return every phone call. That’s the job of SWAMC’s Keri Scaggs –

“I respond as quickly as I can because people are nervous. They’re scared. They’re wondering what the future is going to look like, and I think it makes a difference for them to hear a voice that seems to care.”

Scaggs would normally travel to the various communities and meet directly with people, but the virus has cancelled face to face gatherings and forced the process to be handled online.

It’s a problem that has drawn attention again to the frustrations about limited broadband access for many rural regions. That’s why Scaggs urges people to simply pick up the phone.

“They feel disconnected and cut off as it is. When they get a live person on the phone and hear a voice that will listen to their story and listen to their needs, listen to their fears, it does bring some comfort, even if I can’t always solve their problem.”

There are many, many programs that fishermen and businesses are eligible for,  including several people are not even aware of.

Find answers by emailing forward@swamc.org or call Keri Scaggs directly at 907-242-4077.

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