More than 800 Kansas applicants for remaining $721 million in federal recovery assistance

Task force sorting through proposals 17 times greater than available cash

By: - March 7, 2022 6:08 pm
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said he was concerned Gov. Laura Kelly last week offered $160 million in federal recovery funding to child care providers in Kansas without consent of the SPARK task force or the State Finance Council. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said he was concerned Gov. Laura Kelly last week offered $160 million in federal recovery funding to child care providers in Kansas without consent of the SPARK task force or the State Finance Council. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The state task force working to target $721 million in federal relief dollars into economic, health, connectivity and education investment projects received proposals for $12.8 billion in expenditures — about 17 times available funding.

The Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas, or SPARK, advisory panels have been combing through 840 proposals, including 400 tied to $7.9 billion in economic development initiatives. The legislators, business people and state officials on the SPARK executive board plan to narrow the list in April. That report would be forwarded to the State Finance Council, which is comprised of state legislators and Gov. Laura Kelly.

Greg Orman, a member of the executive board of SPARK, said the four advisory panels should define a set of investment principles and outline which projects connected to those objectives.

“You’re sort of using those 800-plus submissions to guide the identification of priorities and at the same time giving a nod to folks whose submissions were powerful in informing that decision,” Orman said.

Kansas received approximately $1.6 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funding from Congress. The Kansas Legislature earmarked $617 million for special projects, including $250 million to $500 million to strengthen the state’s depleted unemployment trust fund. SPARK designated $261 million by funneling $100 million to economic infrastructure, $50 million in salary bonuses for nurses and $50 million in education aid.

That left an estimated $721 million on the table with a wildcard possibility of unused federal funding coming back to SPARK.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said he assumed SPARK and the State Finance Council would make final decisions on ARPA appropriations. The U.S. Department of Treasury, however, decided to require states to engage in a procurement process.

Perhaps the State Finance Council should review the list of projects that survived the procurement process rather than leave it to the Kelly administration to sign off, he said.

Ryckman also raised questions about the governor’s decision last week to designate $160 million in federal relief funding for grants to child care providers. He requested an explanation as to why that allotment wasn’t first approved by SPARK or the State Finance Council.

Kelly, who is seeking re-election in November, said the money represented the third round of business operational assistance to child care providers impacted by COVID-19.

This round of federal funding could provide up to nine months of payments ranging from $1,800 per month for family child care programs to $18,000 per month for large child care centers, the governor said.

“As we grow the economy, these grants will provide the continued support our child care facilities need to stay open and ensure that Kansas families have access to safe, quality child care,” Kelly said in a statement. “This support will help our child care facilities, it will help Kansas parents, and it will help our economy.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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