OSWEGO — Normally when there’s money to be shared, the hands outnumber the dollar bills. But Labette County is having trouble giving away money tied to COVID-19 relief.
The county received $3,983,558.77 from the state’s Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas program, which is distributing federal pandemic relief money. The money can be used to reimburse for COVID-19-related expenses or for projects tied to the pandemic. Local businesses or organizations have until the end of the year to spend the money received or to substantially complete funded projects, but they need to request the money now, or very soon. Applications for this funding are available through the city of Parsons website, parsonsks.com, or by emailing Jim Zaleski, the city of Parsons economic development director, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zaleski and Laura Moore, community development director for Parsons, are helping manage the county’s program to distribute the money and they met with commissioners Monday.
So far, Zaleski said he’s distributed $1,088,000 of the county’s SPARK money to schools, cities, the college, the hospital, the mental health center and others that have applied for and qualified for the funding. Each distribution is approved by the county commission, and the county commission approved the overall program for distribution.
Zaleski still has the bulk of the money to distribute, but businesses and organizations aren’t lining up.
Because of that, commissioners agreed to open up the flood gates on distribution. Initially, once a direct recipient received funding, that recipient could not apply for other program money until the commission made sure community needs were being met. With participation numbers down, that’s no longer an issue and Zaleski suggested opening up four program funds to everyone, even if they’d received money from the program.
The county is distributing $900,000 of the COVID-19 funds through four programs: food programs, economic development, child care/senior care and connectivity. Zaleski said he’s had about 16 applications receive funding and has several more in the pipeline for distribution, but so far only about $100,000 has been distributed. Distribution amounts from these program areas have been limited to make sure more organizations or businesses could receive at least some help to reimburse expenses related to the pandemic. Zaleski asked commissioners to change the maximum distribution amounts in several so the money could be spent down faster.
Zaleski said about $20,000 has been spent for food programs, leaving about $141,000 available. He’d hoped that schools would apply, especially if they send food home with students. John Wyrick, superintendent of Labette County USD 506, said Labette County will seek funding to send food home on weekends and to hand out food to students who will be remote learning. The limit for each grant request is $10,000 and that limit will stay in place for now.
Child and senior care has $229,000 to distribute for pandemic relief efforts and has distributed about $45,000. The limit is $5,000 for child care businesses and $20,000 for senior care (nursing homes and Youth Crisis Center because of its 24-hour care). Commissioners agreed on Monday that the amount would double for senior care enterprises to $40,000 per request and remain at $5,000 for child care businesses.
Economic development has $205,000 available and this is doled out in up to $5,000 increments. That limit was increased to up to $10,000 per request on Monday.
The connectivity program, which can include internet or computer services related to the pandemic, has $305,000 to distribute in increments of up to $25,000. That limit will stay.
Commissioners, County Counselor Brian Johnson and Zaleski said recipients are free to apply for funding from all programs. The money has to be spent by the end of the year and construction takes time, if that’s what the money is for, and ordered equipment takes time to ship out.
“Just because someone has applied does not mean that they cannot apply again for a higher limit or for one of the other programs,” Johnson said, but they need to apply as soon as possible. This means an organization could apply for food assistance and connectivity funding if its needed for pandemic relief efforts or to reimburse for items already purchased.
Zaleski said Parsons State Hospital and Training Center applied for business assistance and turned in receipts of more than $100,000 during the pandemic.
Johnson said he was surprised that convenience and retail stores that had to stay open during the pandemic when other businesses were shuttered have not applied. Even utility expenses could qualify during the pandemic and personal protective equipment purchased to keep employees and the public safe as long as other federal funding has not reimbursed businesses for these expenses already.
Commissioner Doug Allen, whose last meeting was Monday, said everyone has been hurt by the pandemic.
Zaleski and Moore will return to discuss SPARK on Oct. 13.
On Tuesday, commissioners:
— Approved Charlie Morse spending $350 at Wright Signs to have decals painted on his Emergency Management pickup.
— Approved a parcel search agreement with Girard National Bank for $225 that allows the bank to search appraisal information online.
— Approved payments from the Community Development Block Grant COVID-19 fund of $9,402.60, with the remainder of the money, $597.40, coming from what’s left in the county’s micro loan fund. Nash Services in Altamont and Ashley’s Daycare in Altamont each will get $5,000.
— Approved a resolution extending the county’s disaster emergency declaration for 60 days.
— Agreed that incoming commissioners Cole Proehl and Brian Kinzie could participate in the county’s health fair next week and for the blood draws the next week.
— Approved an easement for Commercial Bank to continue to use its drive-thru lane in Oswego on land to be purchased by Labette Health. The hospital is purchasing the Commercial Insurance building for future expansion of the hospital’s medical clinic at Sixth and Commercial.
These actions were taken Monday, but Commissioner Allen, who voted for them, had moved out of his commission district on Friday and had to forfeit his seat. Allen did not realize he had moved out of his district and that fact was not discovered until after Monday’s meeting. Commissioners met Tuesday to vote on these items and will meet on Wednesday to handle one other issue from Monday.