Lawmakers approve coronavirus relief spending

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The State Finance Council on Wednesday approved spending more than $250 million in coronavirus relief funding that will go toward protecting public health, helping struggling businesses and aiding higher education.

The Finance Council delayed action on a proposal to put $60 million into expanding internet access after Republican lawmakers complained there were not enough details about how that money would be used.

The council ratified recommendations of a task force created by Gov. Laura Kelly that provides oversight about how Kansas spends the $1.25 billion that the state received from the federal government for fighting COVID-19.

It agreed to put about $101 million into public health, $78.6 million into economic development and about $75 million into early childhood care and higher education. It previously agreed to send $400 million to local governments.

The money for public health will go toward enhancing the state’s contact tracing ability, expanding the state laboratory’s ability to test for COVID-19, establishing a statewide courier for delivering coronavirus test samples and helping businesses secure personal protection equipment when there are supply-chain disruptions.

The money for economic development includes about $60 million in grants for businesses with up to 500 employees that can show they suffered a loss in revenues of 25% or more over the previous year.

The business grants also would be available for product development in COVID-19 research as well as manufacturing of personal protection equipment.

The state also will direct $55.5 million to higher education, including $17.5 million to ensure continuity of instruction, $7.2 million for personal protection equipment, $11.9 million for facilities changes and $5.3 million for on-campus healthcare facilities.

The state also would funnel $13.5 million to the University of Kansas Health System for campus testing, infection prevention advice, surge contact tracing and infection prevention education for the fall of 2020.

Another $9.4 million will go to community colleges, including $2.7 million for personal protection equipment and $5.2 million for reopening and remote instruction costs.

The state is under a tight deadline to spend the money or risk having to return it to the federal government. It has until the end of the year to spend the funds.

House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins voiced dissatisfaction over a lack of detail over plans for spending the money on broadband and economic development.

“There are pieces that are very much necessary and we realize that,” Hawkins said.

“Then there are those pieces that have a lot of gray matter in there that we just don’t know.”

Kelly acknowledged that these are extraordinary times and that the state is under pressure to spend the money.

“Right now, there is an urgency to get these spending levels approved and let the process for getting this money out begin,” Kelly said.

Hawkins attempted to delay acting on the spending for broadband and economic development until next  week.

He ultimately relented on the economic development component of the spending plan, leaving the broadband decision to be made next week.