Local organizations working to distribute CARES funding as deadline nears

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.

As the end of the year draws closer, local organizations are working to dole out coronavirus relief funding they have been charged with distributing.

Representatives for both the Lawrence Restaurant Association and Downtown Lawrence Inc. told the Journal-World this week they are wrapping up the second and final round of their grant funding that is being offered to local businesses struggling amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Distributing the funding soon is important, as the federal dollars must be spent before the end of the year, or else Douglas County risks losing them.

“We will distribute every buck. That’s our goal,” said Sally Zogry, executive director for Downtown Lawrence Inc.

Earlier in the fall, the County Commission crafted a spending plan for the $24.9 million it would receive from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as CARES. Part of the plan included grant funding for local organizations to distribute.

As the Journal-World previously reported, the Lawrence Restaurant Association, which was allocated $1.6 million to distribute, told the commissioners it planned to provide grants to hospitality businesses such as restaurants, bars, coffee shops, bakeries, event spaces and hotels with full-service restaurants. Downtown Lawrence Inc., which was allocated $450,000 to distribute, planned to provide similar grants to locally owned retail and service businesses in Douglas County.

The Lawrence Restaurant Association has so far distributed more than $700,000 to about 75 local businesses, Emily Peterson, a member of the organization, said in an email to the Journal-World this week. In that first round of funding, much of it was used to reimburse them for pandemic-related expenses, she said.

The organization is currently working on its second round of funding, which will provide about $865,000 to help with business disruption during the pandemic. According to the organization’s website, hospitality businesses have until Nov. 30 to apply for the LRA funding. Peterson said those businesses may apply at lawrencerestaurantassociation.com/cares.

Zogry said the Downtown Lawrence Inc. grants were also split into two rounds of funding. She said the first round provided about $270,000 to 35 local businesses. The second round, which has received 25 applications so far, will provide about $180,000. The application period for the second round ended Friday.

Zogry said she was confident the money would be spent before the end of the year.

“We’re very excited to have this opportunity to help local businesses,” Zogry said.

As for the rest of the funding outlined in the $24.9 million plan, it’s not clear how far along the county is in distributing the funds.

In October, County Administrator Sarah Plinsky reported to the commissioners that roughly $9.3 million of the $24.9 million had been distributed, including partial distributions of the funds allocated to the Lawrence Restaurant Association and Downtown Lawrence Inc. Along with the funding to local businesses, the plan also included funding for local municipalities and many organizations from the health and medical, housing and human services and education sectors.

When asked for an update this week, Plinsky told the Journal-World she did not have the figures but noted she hopes to provide an update on Wednesday.

“The County is working hard with our community partners to distribute the funds in the community quickly,” Plinsky said in an email.

According to the report Plinsky provided to the commissioners in October, most of the agencies scheduled to receive funding had received at least 30% of their allocated funds, which was the initial amount provided after the agencies signed contracts to accept the funding. But Commission Chair Patrick Kelly expressed concern that the deadline to spend the funds was fast approaching.

Plinsky told him the county was working hard to make sure the deadline is met and if the county gets close to the deadline without spending all of the funding, she would bring the issue back to the commissioners to make a decision on how to proceed.

“I’m getting a little nervous too, but folks, I’m impressed how quickly we are getting everything signed,” Plinsky said. “I’m hopeful that it’s all going to happen,” she added.

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