With only 30 working days left before the spending deadline, the governor and legislative leaders in the State Finance Council met Friday to appropriate the remaining reserve funds, as well as take action on any potential leftover COVID-19 relief money.
"As a very practical matter, we have to get those dollars into the programs that can actually execute and get dollars out the door," said the state Recovery Office’s Julie Lorenz. "The window of opportunity continues to narrow with each day."
The last $25 million in reserve CARES Act money, which was backup funding for housing stability and eviction assistance, will now instead go toward state agency operations.
The demand from the evictions program currently stands around $8 million, said Lorenz, and the state is hoping to see more applications coming in due to its aggressive outreach. But she doesn’t anticipate demand exceeding the original $35 million set aside.
Whereas with state agencies, more than $100 million was requested but only $30 million was allocated, said Lorenz, adding that giving it to agencies would be "one of the most time-efficient approaches to the allocation of funds."
There could be additional money freed up that could be spent elsewhere, such as with child care, with about $7.5 million demanded so far of the $40 million allocated.
Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, wanted to make sure there was funding for a public information campaign on following COVID-19 guidelines.
"We got to convince, educate the Kansas populace that we got to mask up, we got to avoid crowds, we need to not go to the bars after 10 o’clock ... we need to get that message out and we need to spend some CARES money," he said. "We’re in a exponential spread as far as a virus spread. That’s a terrible place to be."
"I think we realize that mandates don’t always work, but this educational effort will," said Rep. Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe.
Cindy Samuelson of the Kansas Hospital Association said her organization and its partners are already setting up a PSA campaign, with hopes it will start up before Thanksgiving and last through the end of January.
Ryckman said state legislative leaders are eager as well for a campaign and had been working on this objective, too.
"We have a lot of celebrities who are ready to go and help us with this," he said.
Ultimately, within the motion to transfer the $25 million to state agencies, the council approved $1.5 million going toward a PSA campaign. The governor said the money would be given as soon as possible to the hospital association.
But in other areas, Republicans and Democrats in the council had tense moments and disagreements. Denning drove most of the arguments, proposing two actions that was voted for by the majority along party lines but vetoed by the governor.
In the last meeting, the group decided that $15 million from the child care portion was to go toward testing, only if needed. Denning now wanted a stipulation saying that money must be spent on private industry and community testing. At least a quarter of the money would be spent in the Wichita metro area, another quarter in the Kansas City metro area and the remaining 50% spread to the rest of the state.
Gov. Laura Kelly voted no, saying "it’s complicated and really needs more discussion ... and we need to understand the ramifications of it before we put it in place."
Denning shot back, frustrated with how the testing program rolled out under the governor as opposed as to what he had envisioned when approving the testing money. He wanted more emphasis on business testing.
"I spent, I can’t tell you how many hours on testing ... and to be completely left out of building the program, I feel the same way with you," he said.
Marci Nielsen, special adviser to the governor, countered Denning’s point.
"Prioritizing private business ahead of people who are being hospitalized and dying in nursing homes ... frankly, I don’t think that was in line with what (was) laid out," she said.
Denning then asked all remaining decisions on COVID-19 relief funding lie with the majority-Republican State Finance Council instead of the governor’s Recovery Office, which had instead asked for flexibility to redistribute funds between all programs as needed with the deadline nearing.
He also asked that any remaining money left over be transferred to an employers’ unemployment fund to help out businesses.
"I think the State Finance Council needs to start engaging in very direct appropriations for the remainder of this process," he said before his motion failed to pass.
In other matters, the council extended the state of disaster declaration for another 30 days.
But Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, wanted to make sure the governor wouldn’t impose another statewide lockdown.
"We have no discussion, no thought on shutting down the state," Kelly said.