Kansas lawmakers embrace framework for allocation of $374 million in federal relief aid
photo by: Kansas Reflector screen capture from Kansas Legislature YouTube channel
TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly and bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate voted Wednesday to endorse a framework for issuing $374 million in competitive grants for economic development, education, health and broadband technology projects with money allocated by Congress in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The strategy unanimously approved by the State Finance Council was based on recommendations of a special committee of Kansas government and business representatives who worked 18 months to create a process for deploying $1.6 billion forwarded to the state in 2021 through the American Rescue Plan ACT, or ARPA. The state has until 2024 to fully obligate that money and until 2026 to finish projects tied to the spending.
“There is no wiggle room past 2026,” said DeAngela Burns-Wallace, secretary of the Kansas Department of Administration.
The $374 million package would be broken up this way: economic revitalization, $130 million; health and education, including mental health and child care services, $104 million; efficiency and modernization in delivery of state services to Kansans, $100 million; and broadband connectivity and digital literacy, $35 million. Organizations, local governments, businesses and state agencies could apply for grants.
Kelly, who voted with other members of the State Finance Council to approve allocation of the $374 million, said the funding would “accelerate the work my administration is doing to expand broadband, attract new businesses and create jobs and strengthen the state’s information security.”
“The programs approved today will make catalytic investments in critical areas of need that will position Kansas for future success,” said House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican.
Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Bunker Hill Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he was keen for the state to avoid placing these recovery dollars in programs that would carry on for many years. To sustain long-term investments, he said, the state would have to pick up the slack after federal aid was exhausted.
“We’re trying to identify one-time expenses with ARPA funds,” Waymaster said.
An additional $167 million in ARPA dollars could be freed up to meet demands for relief, but decisions about the majority of that money would involve action by the 2023 Legislature.
The special committee’s suggestion for the supplemental cash: economic development, $102 million; health and education, $45 million; and efficiency and modernization, $20 million. The State Finance Council didn’t take a vote on this portion of unused ARPA dollars.
The State Finance Council acted on recommendations of SPARK, or Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas. SPARK’s executive committee included House Speaker Ron Ryckman, GOP Senate President Ty Masterson, Democratic Lt. Gov. David Toland and businessman Greg Orman, an independent candidate for governor in 2018.
“I thought this committee was made up of a really strong group that had Kansas in mind and wanted to find ways to work together,” said SPARK member Jon Rolph, the Wichita president of a company operating more than 100 restaurants in a dozen states. “I appreciate the collegiality.”
Toland, who also serves as secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce and chaired SPARK, said developing a system for allocation of an unprecedented volume of federal funding in a relatively short span of time was daunting.
“We want to thank everybody for their patience as we have worked this year to make sure we are following pretty complicated federal regulations that relate to these dollars,” he said.
More details about competitive grant programs tied to the $374 million should be released by state agencies by the end of February.
Orman urged state officials to assist small organizations or towns with the application process for grants and to mandate transparency in terms of evaluating applications and awarding financial aid. In terms of this round of relief spending, requests submitted previously to the state and those initiated in early 2023 would all be eligible.
“I don’t want this to be perceived as a political patronage program,” Orman said. “Make it transparent, objective and, ultimately, open to anybody who thinks they have the ability to help us meet these needs.”
Orman also requested the state emphasize funding of mental health intervention programs with the goal of helping people avoid placement in mental health clinics or hospitals.
“I think it is more efficient, No. 1, but candidly, No. 2, it’s more humane to help someone stay out of crisis,” Orman said.
— Tim Carpenter reports for Kansas Reflector.