City of Lawrence receives more than $8 million in CARES Act grants, including $7 million to support bus service
photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World File Photo
Updated at 3:56 p.m.
The City of Lawrence has received more than $8 million in federal relief to help respond to the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, most of which will go to help the city’s bus service continue normal operations.
The city’s transit service, which it coordinates with the University of Kansas service, depends heavily on sales tax collections. Sales tax revenue has already shown declines in the most recent receipts — largely representing sales made in March — and city projections estimate that millions could be lost as the pandemic continues to affect the local economy.
The transit grant is the largest of five grants the city has received so far through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, according to the COVID-19 grants dashboard on the city’s website, Lawrenceks.org. Specifically, the city will be allocated about $7.1 million through the Public Transit CARES Act Apportionment Funding, which can be used for federally eligible transit operating capital purposes and to respond to the pandemic.
The city will use the funds to cover ongoing operating expenses of the service that are not covered due to losses in sales tax and fare revenues, according to a city news release. Additionally, funds will be used to replace buses that that are not in good condition. The CARES grant is in addition to a $3.75 million federal grant the city recently received to replace some of its diesel buses with zero-emission buses.
Regarding the breakdown of how the funding will be spent, Transit and Parking Manager Adam Weigel said about $4 million will support the bus service’s operational costs over the next three years. He said the remaining $3 million will go toward the city’s next round of bus replacements, which will likely happen in about two years.
The city’s grant is part of $25 billion in funding to support public transit that the Federal Transit Administration is distributing to communities across the country, according to the FTA’s website. The city typically has to match federal transit funds, but the CARES funding does not require a local match. In addition to supporting operating and capital expenses, the funds can be used for other expenses to prevent, prepare for and respond to the pandemic. That includes continuing to pay transit personnel who are on leave because of reduced operations caused by the pandemic.
The city was also allocated $97,055 through the Bureau of Justice Assistance Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding Program. The local food pantry Just Food will receive $58,000 of that grant, and the remainder will go to city expenses resulting directly from the coronavirus, according to the news release.
The other CARES Act grants the city has received include a $446,000 grant that the City Commission allocated earlier this month to the local homeless shelter. The grant will help pay for the addition of a quarantine area and other capital improvements at the Lawrence Community Shelter, 3655 E. 25th St.
Two grants will go to benefit the Lawrence Municipal Airport. The city received a $69,000 CARES Act grant through the Federal Aviation Administration in April to support continuing operations and replace lost revenue resulting from the decline in passenger traffic and other airport business due to the pandemic, as the Journal-World previously reported. The city states in the news release that it plans to use those funds to replace a manual gate at the airport with a safer electric version. Prior to the pandemic, the city was also awarded a $4 million grant to rehabilitate the airport’s runway, and that grant no longer requires the approximately $400,000 local match previously called for.
In addition to the five grants already awarded, the city is pursuing other grants available through the CARES Act, all of which can be viewed on the dashboard. The dashboard indicates there are nine other potential grants that the city is monitoring or has already applied for. The city notes in the news release that it doesn’t determine the grant categories that are offered, and is still awaiting direction on other stimulus programs through the federal and state government.