$290 million in federal funding still up for grabs

Capitol Bureau

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — The federal government sent more than $1 billion to Kansas for coronavirus relief through the CARES Act. That money must be spent by the end of the year.

The SPARK Task Force was created to assist in making recommendations on how the money should be distributed and spent. Two rounds of funding have already been sent to Kansas counties and now the third and final round of money needs to go out.

There is approximately $290 million in CARES Act funding left to be distributed. The Kansas Office of Recovery held a virtual webinar on Friday with members of the SPARK Task Force. Suggestions and proposals were presented on how to potentially spent the remaining money.

With some school districts choosing to learn virtually and parents returning to work, there is a need more than ever for child care in the state. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Kansas was falling behind in available child care. During the webinar, it was proposed to use a portion of the CARES funding for expanding access to child care in the state. This included offering grants to child care providers, covering tuition costs for families in need and creating more public spaces for child care like at libraries or gyms.

“The need is so sudden and so unexpected that families all across the state are struggling to put plans in place,” said Melissa Rooker, Executive Director of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund. “These programs provide a respite from the intensity of the need for a sudden place to drop in your child.”

According to the Aspen Institute, as of August 7, between 30-44% of Kansas rental households are at risk of eviction in the coming months due to not being able to pay rent. This week the CDC placed a hold on evictions through the end of the year, however there is still concern about the back-rent that people will eventually owe. There is also concern for landlords and property owners who are bringing in significantly less income during this time. CARES Act money has been requested to go to property owners to assist with unpaid rent, and help bring down back rent costs.

“People want to pay their rent,” said Ryan Vincent, Executive Director of the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation. “People want to have a healthy and stable home. They just don’t have the means to do so.”

As coronavirus cases continue to rise in Kansas, the need for adequate testing supplies and availability is essential. According to KDHE Secretary Dr. Lee Norman, the state is meeting the testing recommendations put out by the White House. But Governor Kelly said Kansas could always do more.

“I think every state is below what they need to be doing,” said the Governor. “We’re playing catch-up in a lot of ways because the production wasn’t there of either the tests themselves, testing materials and the PPE. So we’ve got a lot of that stuff now in place, it’s a matter of getting it all in place and increasing the amount.”

During the Friday webinar proposals were made to use some of the remaining CARES Act money to purchase testing supplies as well as expand testing at the state level, in private clinics and labs and at state university labs.

“We really want to focus on testing at schools and helping schools stay open and kids safe and teachers safe,” explained Andrew Schlapp, Executive Director of Government Relations & Strategy at Wichita State University. “We think that’s critical.”

The proposals made during the webinar will be discussed and considered at the SPARK Task Force meeting on Wednesday. From there, the task force will make final recommendations that need to be approved by the State Finance Council.

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