State opens application process for second round of CARES funding, including about $130M for economic relief

photo by: Jackson Barton/Journal-World File Photo

The Douglas County Courthouse and downtown Lawrence are pictured in an aerial photo Saturday, July 13, 2019.

Less than a week after Douglas County finished making plans for its allotment of coronavirus relief funding, the state started the process to award a second round of funding.

The second round of money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as CARES, includes funding opportunities for small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

But those entities might need to act quickly to receive anything, a Lawrence chamber of commerce leader said.

“I would advise people who have not already applied to apply as quickly as they can,” said Steve Kelly, the chamber’s vice president for economic development.

State officials recently announced that Kansas’ SPARK task force has begun accepting applications for the second round of funding, which includes a total of about $130 million of grants that are meant to provide economic relief and help expand broadband access throughout the state.

“These funds will both provide necessary immediate relief to businesses and contribute to a more strategic, competitive Kansas economy in the future,” Gov. Laura Kelly said in a news release announcing the grants.

As with the first round of funding, which was recently finalized and will be administered by Douglas County, all of the second-round funds need to be spent before the end of 2020. But unlike the first round of CARES funding, the second round of funding is statewide.

Steve Kelly said the grant opportunities that would most likely be helpful to Douglas County organizations were the Small Business Working Capital Grants. But he also said the process for awarding those grants will likely be highly competitive. He said he believed the number of funding requests would be “incredible” and would likely be for more than the state could provide.

Other possible grant opportunities include Securing Local Food Systems Grants for meat processing and other food processing facilities, grocers and food banks; Broadband Partnership Adoption Grants for internet service providers to offer broadband internet to low-income households; and Personal Protective Equipment Procurement Grants, among others.

The state’s guidance on the funding notes there is no application deadline, and a portal to apply will be open until the funds run out. Steve Kelly said he doesn’t believe the funding is available “first come, first serve,” but businesses should not risk waiting.

Additionally, each grant opportunity has its own terms and varying amounts of funding available to a single business. For instance, the small business grant is available to Kansas businesses that employ fewer than 500 people. The grant can also only be used for paying for capital expenses such as payroll, rent, mortgage insurance, utilities and inventory.

To earn one of those grants, those businesses must have been in business prior to July 1, 2019, and also be able to show a loss of at least 25% of gross revenues from Jan. 1, 2020, to June 30, 2020, compared to their revenues from Jan. 1, 2019, to June 30, 2019. But if a business is denied funding, it will have the ability to appeal to the SPARK committee to make its case.

Steve Kelly said he believes a “significant” number of Douglas County businesses and organizations will be considering these options.

“I think there will be a number of these (grants) that companies and organizations in and around the county will have an opportunity to apply for,” he said.

To learn more about the grant opportunities or apply for funding, businesses may use an application portal on the Kansas Department of Commerce’s website,

CARES first-round funds still available

Although the County Commission has finalized a plan for its $24.9 million allotment of first-round funds, economic relief opportunities are still available for local businesses.

Prior to finalizing the plan, the commissioners reworked language in the economic recovery portion to make sure funds to certain “umbrella” organizations would be provided as new grants that county businesses could still apply for. For example, the funding for the Lawrence Restaurant Association and Downtown Lawrence Inc. will actually take the form of grant programs for hospitality and retail businesses throughout the county.

Steve Kelly said he thought the commissioners’ move to create the grants, rather than just funding those organizations, was a good idea. He specifically helped the county come up with its original funding plan by serving on a working group going through all of the economic relief requests. But he said that process was difficult because the funds have to be spent before the end of the year, which puts a lot of pressure on businesses.

“The money has to be spent by the end of the year, so it puts you in a very interesting position,” he said. “If money isn’t spent by the end of the year, you lose it. So you want to be as sure as you can that you have qualifying projects.”

By creating the economic grants to be provided later, Douglas County businesses now have a moment to catch their breath and make sure they have projects they know could be funded before the end of the year, he said.

However, it’s not yet clear how businesses will be able to apply for those funds. County Administrator Sarah Plinsky told the Journal-World that the organizations administering the new grants will bring outlines to the County Commission for review when they are ready.

Still, Steve Kelly said businesses need to be ready to act quickly when those funds are again open for applications.

“It gives people a little bit of breathing room, but the clock is still going to be ticking pretty quickly,” he said.

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