Shawnee will direct federal COVID-19 funding toward small businesses, public service providers

Sancho's Streetside is one of the many food vendors that has teamed up with Transport Brewery during the COVID-19 shutdown.

The city of Shawnee was awarded $168,955 in federal funds to mitigate the growing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

City leaders Tuesday debated how they wanted to spend the funds — whether to support small businesses or public service providers — but ultimately went with city staff’s recommendation to allocate $56,955 toward public service provider assistance and the remaining $112,000 toward business assistance. The council also supported matching the federal funding with city dollars.

The federal funding comes from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which made available $5 billion in Community Development Block Grant Coronavirus funds. Shawnee already receives federal Community Development Block Grant funding and has allocated about $294,000 to eligible projects this year.

Public service provider assistance will help low- and moderate-income households in Shawnee. Meanwhile, business assistance will come in the form of grant or forgivable loan programs for businesses needing help paying their lease or mortgage.

Some councilmembers wanted to see the coronavirus funds support local businesses that have struggled to make ends meet during the coronavirus shutdown. Councilmember Kurt Knappen suggested the funds go mostly toward restaurants.

“I would love nothing more than at the end of this, as a council, to be able to say we played a role in keeping these folks afloat,” Knappen said. “A month’s worth of mortgage is a huge help to a small business. In the spirit of working together, if we kept the recommended current split and we matched, I think that is a great investment for our community. And again, small businesses are super important.”

Other councilmembers wanted to make sure funds support public service providers, which help low- and moderate-income families, perhaps in the form of financially supporting childcare for essential workers, or paying internet bills in homes where students are remote learning.

“I do think these programs are incredibly valuable to our residents, and we do actually get money back from this investment as well,” said Councilmember Lisa Larson-Bunnell of the city’s support for organizations like Salvation Army and Friends of Johnson County Developmental Support. “These are people that are able to stay in their homes and shop in our stores. They are contributing members of our society.”

The city council unanimously recommended the $112,000 be allocated only to businesses that are still open or temporarily closed — not to businesses which permanently closed. There is no cap on the number of employees to determine a business’s eligibility, but the spirit of the council’s intent was to direct those dollars to small businesses, including franchises.

The city council asked the Shawnee Chamber to come up with a scoring system to determine which businesses would receive financial assistance, and how much. The city intends to disburse the money quickly.

The council also unanimously recommended the city agree to match the federal funding, pending a determination by city staff that there are available funds. The city’s matched dollars may come out of the general fund or economic development fund.

The city council will consider the allocation of the coronavirus funding when it meets Shawnee must spend the coronavirus funding by Sept. 30, 2022.