As lawmakers continue to probe the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shutdown, Gov. Laura Kelly announced Thursday that businesses could apply for $130 million in various grants starting next week.


The programs are backed by funding from the federal CARES Act and applications will be accepted beginning at noon Wednesday, Aug. 19. Prospective applicants can currently review the programs and learn more at kansascommerce.gov/covidrelief.


"These funds will both provide necessary immediate relief to businesses and contribute to a more strategic, competitive Kansas economy in the future," Kelly said in a statement. "I want to thank the SPARK Taskforce for recommending these strategic investments and the State Finance Council for approving the use of these funds."


The most significant program is the Small Business Working Capital Grants, which helps enterprises with 500 or fewer employees cover expenditures like rent, payroll and mortgage insurance.


Other funds exist to support everything from broadband deployment to food banks to helping employers procure personal protective equipment.


The announcement comes as legislators on the Special Committee on Economic Recovery begin to work in earnest to assess the state’s economic landscape and what action might be needed to better serve businesses.


Lawmakers were briefed on a range of subjects, including the CARES Act funding and what it would mean going forward for Kansas businesses.


David Soffer, legislative and policy director at the Kansas Department of Commerce, said Wednesday that the $32.5 million in SPARK grants specifically designated for small businesses will be more effective than loans.


"We’re really excited about being able to get those dollars out," Soffer told lawmakers.


Some members did express concerns about giving out grants, rather than loans, to businesses. Those who received a grant would get an unfair leg up on those did not, said Rep. Sean Tarwater (R-Stillwell), especially among companies making PPE.


"How are they going to be able to compete against someone we gave a grant to?" Tarwater said.


But the CARES Act funding will be welcome from those in the field, according to Alex Orel, of the Kansas Bankers Association. While Kansas banks are able to provide needed capital, he acknowledged that a grant is a better option for the majority of firms unable to take on debt.


"There is no doubt that the uncertainty caused by the pandemic has changed behaviors," Orel said. "The pandemic has chosen winners and it has chosen losers."


And Soffer stressed that grants for things as basic as acquiring masks, hand sanitizer and plexiglass barriers will help businesses calm customer fears and boost consumer confidence as the economy gets back on its feet.


"The top thing that we’ve heard is help us get PPE, help us outfit our businesses to get safe so we can promote a safe environment for our consumers," he said.