Extension provides Douglas County more time to spend $24.9 million in CARES funding

photo by: Jackson Barton

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

As Douglas County and its community partners were racing to make sure all of their coronavirus relief funds were spent by the end of the year, the federal government provided a deadline extension just days before it was set to expire.

Both Gov. Laura Kelly’s office and the National Association of Counties confirmed to the Journal-World on Wednesday that the deadline to spend the funds provided in the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as CARES, was extended Sunday when President Donald Trump signed a new stimulus package into law.

The original deadline required counties throughout the country to have their funding allotments spent by Thursday. The extension now gives them more time to make sure their funding is spent on the important economic and community service programs to help respond to the pandemic.

“America’s counties remain on the front lines of this pandemic, addressing community health and human services needs, distributing vaccines and dealing with an economy on life support,” National Association of Counties Executive Director Matthew Chase said in a news release.

However, Douglas County Administrator Sarah Plinsky noted the stimulus package put two separate extensions in play, and the one with the shorter time frame is applicable to Douglas County.

As the Journal-World previously reported, the federal government directly provided CARES Act funds to large population counties — such as Johnson and Sedgwick counties in Kansas — while smaller population counties received their allotments through their state governments.

Plinsky said the deadline extension for the larger counties is for an entire year. Meanwhile, the smaller counties, including Douglas County, received an extension until the end of February.

Although the time frame is shorter, Plinsky said the county appreciates the extension.

“This extension is helpful to the network of over 50 community partners working to use these funds in the community,” Plinsky said in an email. “We appreciate the additional time to make sure funds are fully utilized as outlined in our plan.”

Prior to the extension, though, the county was already hard at work to make sure the dollars were spent before the original deadline.

Earlier this month, the Douglas County Commission made several changes to its $24.9 million package as a contingency plan to make sure the dollars were spent before Thursday. They moved around nearly $1 million of the funds to several community organizations that were ready to spend it quickly.

That included the Lawrence Restaurant Association, which operated a grant program for the county’s hospitality businesses, and Explore Lawrence, which operated a hotel support program. Michael Davidson, executive director for Explore Lawrence, helped oversee both of those programs. He told the Journal-World this week that both organizations were able to get their additional funds spent before the deadline, as they were providing aid for businesses in dire need.

“We had no trouble distributing the funds,” he said. “There was so much need that it was easy to push the money out.”

But how much of the county’s funding remains to be spent is not yet clear. Plinsky told the Journal-World that the county will have a better idea in the coming weeks.

She noted that, while the original law required the funds to be spent before the end of the year, it also provided time for organizations to report their spending in 2021. She said she expects that reporting to occur in January and February.

Although they have spent their dollars, Davidson said the LRA and Explore Lawrence have yet to report their spending but will do that soon. As for meeting the deadline, he said the county’s job of overseeing the spending of $24.9 million in just a few months was not easy.

“I was very impressed by the county and how they handled this,” Davidson said. “This was a herculean task.”

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