On Tuesday, Governor Laura Kelly’s Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) Taskforce Executive Committee reviewed and approved a proposal to distribute $400 million to local governments to help address the health and economic challenges inflicted by COVID-19, according to a media release from the governor's office.
“Over the last few months Kansans have faced unprecedented challenges because of COVID-19,” Governor Kelly said. “Through it all, they have shown resiliency and compassion that has served as a strong reminder that we are all in this together.
“Every region of our State has been impacted by the health and economic crisis of this pandemic. We need to provide local governments with all the resources we can to mitigate the virus and revitalize our economy. We want to make these funds available, so communities can address current challenges and jumpstart our economic recovery,” Kelly said.
This is the first action of the SPARK Taskforce, which is charged with distributing over a billion dollars in federal funds Kansas received under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“This fair, impactful and timely distribution of funds to county governments will strengthen our health, speed the reopening of our economy and help our state remain open for business,” Cheryl Harrison-Lee, Executive Director of the Recovery Office, said. “I’m grateful to the Executive Committee members for the swift action they took today and look forward to collaborating with them and the Steering Committee to put the remaining funds to work.”
Harrison-Lee proposed a three-phased approach to allocating the funds. The first round will focus on providing relief to county governments which had not already received funding under the CARES Act. Johnson and Sedgwick Counties have already received funds because they have populations over 500,000.
Under the SPARK proposal, each county would receive funds based on the following formula:
- Population: All counties are guaranteed to receive at least $194 per person. This is the same amount awarded to Johnson and Sedgwick residents previously.
- Impact Fund: Counties will receive additional dollars based on their COVID-19 case rates and unemployment rates. The purpose of the Impact Fund is to provide additional dollars to those counties hit hardest by the virus. Johnson and Sedgwick counties will receive funds through this fund as well.
Fifty percent of each county’s share will be for reimbursement of COVID-19 related expenses and the remaining 50 percent will be direct aid for eligible expenditures under the CARES Act.
To receive funds, counties will be required to pass a resolution affirming they will allocate the funding consistent with the CARES Act and to share and allocate funds to educational and municipal entities within their counties.
Under this proposal, there will be two additional funding rounds later this year. Public and private entities will be eligible for funding in the later rounds, which will focus on strategic investments and revitalizing the State’s economy.
“While our initial focus is on strengthening health, the second round will target short-term and long-term opportunities to generate economic growth for all Kansans,” Lyle Butler, SPARK Executive Committee Chair, said. “I’m so pleased at the talent we’ve assembled both on our Executive and Steering Committees – we’re going to need it to make sound, inclusive investments that serve rural and urban Kansas now and in the future.”
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By JOHN HANNA
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Gov. Laura Kelly team she appointed to help her plan for the state’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic began discussing how to spend $1.25 billion in federal relief funds.
The Democratic governor said she is confident that she can work out an agreement with the Republican-controlled Legislature to give them some oversight over how the funds are spent.
Kelly said the money has to be distributed by the end of the year, and she expects the first round of spending to include payments to cities and counties to cover their coronavirus-related costs. A five-member executive committee of Kelly’s 20-member planning team plans to have its first meeting Tuesday.
“There was a real desire on the part some in the Legislature to have some control,” Kelly said during a Statehouse news conference. “I think we can come up with something that they feel comfortable that they’ve got the kind oversight they ought to have and want without giving up the nimbleness that we need to get that money out.”
Kelly vetoed a sweeping coronavirus bill passed by GOP legislators in the final moments of their annual session, and the measure would have curbed her power to direct the state’s pandemic response. It included provisions that would have given the Legislature’s top seven leaders the final say in how the federal coronavirus relief funds would be spent.
Kelly said there’s not enough time for “having committee meetings, debating, everything else.”
The governor called legislators back into a special session starting Wednesday to extend a state of emergency that’s due to expire June 10.
After the governor vetoed the GOP coronavirus bill, she lifted the state’s remaining restrictions on businesses last week, leaving it to officials in each of the state’s 105 counties to determine what rules remain in place. She had planned to keep some statewide restrictions in place until June 23 but backed off after weeks of pressure from the Legislature to move more quickly to reopen the economy.
Kansas has continued to see coronavirus cases and COVID-19-related deaths increase. The state Department of Health and Environment reported Monday that the number of cases had reached 10,011, up 292 or 3% since Friday, and the number of deaths jumped 4.5%, up 9 to a total of 217 since the pandemic hit the state in early March.
Meanwhile, two female students are suing the University of Kansas for refunds they believe they should have received after classes were moved online and activities were canceled because of the pandemic.
Universities across the country are facing similar lawsuits after they sent students home in March.
The lawsuit was filed May 18 by two students from Johnson County, who are not named. They contend the university is keeping money students should have received — by refusing to refund the cost of campus fees for the time after students left campus and by issuing credits for on-campus dining packages instead of refunds, The Lawrence Journal-World reported.
The lawsuit leaves open the possibility of become a class-action for all 26,000 university students but it’s unclear if other plaintiffs have signed on to the case.
Kansas spokeswoman Erinn Barcomb-Peterson said the university was aware of the lawsuit but would refrain from commenting “until the appropriate time.”
The university has provided refunds in several areas, such as parking, housing and dining, Barcomb-Peterson said.