Shawnee says businesses are still struggling in pandemic, but $400,000 in federal aid remains untapped

While Shawnee city leaders cited a growing need among businesses and families struggling from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal funding for coronavirus relief that was allocated to the city months ago has barely been tapped into. File photo.

Shawnee has received more than $400,000 in federal coronavirus relief funds in recent months, but none of it has been distributed to businesses that could benefit from the extra money amid the economic fallout caused by the pandemic.

To date, city officials say none of the businesses that have applied for coronavirus relief funding have met the strict federal requirements for reimbursement.

Instead, Shawnee has awarded nearly $90,000 in city matching funds to more than a dozen businesses. None of the federal dollars intended for small businesses and nonprofits has actually been sent to those organizations.

That’s frustrating to city councilmember Eric Jenkins.

“This just seemed like a pretty darn narrow focus, and I think we kind of let our folks down with that,” Jenkins said during Monday’s city council meeting. He argued there should be more flexibility in the federal criteria to allow funds to flow more easily to businesses.

At the same time, some of the city’s federal coronavirus relief dollars have also been earmarked for local public service providers — primarily nonprofits — but none of that money has been distributed either. Organizations eligible for that money have yet to request reimbursements because they have not exhausted alternative funding sources, as is required by the federal government.

Two rounds of federal dollars, plus city matching funds

Shawnee has received two rounds of federal coronavirus relief funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during the pandemic.

At the start of the pandemic in March, the city received roughly $168,000 in federal aid through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Coronavirus, or CDBG-CV, program. The city later agreed to match those funds 100%, bringing the total pot of money available to businesses and public service providers at that time to nearly $338,000.

Of that total, roughly two-thirds — about $224,000 — was set aside to pay for grants to small businesses to help them with mortgage/rent assistance. The other roughly one-third — or $113,000 — was set aside for or public service providers, mostly nonprofits.

Then, in September, Shawnee received a second round of federal relief totaling slightly more than $245,000.

With federal dollars and city matching funds combined, more than $580,000 has been on the table for economic relief for businesses and public service providers in Shawnee.

But on Monday, city staff reported to the city council that Shawnee has awarded a total of just $87,354.98 in grants, all of that from the city matching funds. None of the federal money has yet been tapped into, either by businesses or public service providers.

City staff said 18 of 31 businesses that applied for relief through the Shawnee Economic Recovery Assistance program, ended up receiving money. The city deemed the remaining 13 businesses ineligible.

City staff estimate the remaining unused money could help up to 27 more businesses, if they’re deemed eligible.

“While I think we all realize that there are gaps in systems in funding at this point, there is only so much capacity available to administer these funds, and there are a lot of other funds out there, currently, that organizations are trying to work through,” said city neighborhood planner Lauren Grashoff.

She also noted that city staff has “the desire to remain versatile, as we know that the needs based on this pandemic continue to change and will likely change, here coming up as the vaccine gets released.”

Requirements to get funds

As part of the federal Community Development Block program, businesses must meet the following criteria in order to receive federal coronavirus relief dollars distributed to Shawnee:

  • Must benefit low- and moderate-income residents
  • Aid in the prevention or elimination of blight
  • Meet an urgent need which poses a threat to the community
  • Respond to, prepare for, or prevent the coronavirus pandemic

Shawnee has earmarked $17,500 in federal funds to three local public service providers, but none of that money has actually been spent. Here’s how the city allotted those funds:

  • Salvation Army — $7,500
  • Shawnee Community Services — $5,000
  • Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas — $5,000

The city says it still has about $96,000 left to designate for public service providers.

Some councilmembers expressed their wishes for versatility in allotment of the new and remaining funds, particularly to help families and businesses still struggling this year.

Councilmember Lindsey Constance, who is a teacher in the Shawnee Mission School District, said she wanted the city to connect with the SMSD and other organizations to help out students and families with things like utility assistance, groceries and related items.

“I just know from my day job that there’s a lot of need,” she said. “I know there’s a lot of need for many of our families, so if we have some funding and we can help, it feels like a great fit. The schools already know which families are struggling, so we’d hopefully be able to get in and help.”

Friends of JCDS is set to get reimbursed for house projects

Friends of JCDS may get reimbursed $18,850 for some projects in Shawnee. The local nonprofit is planning renovations of one home on West 69th Terrace to improve accessibility, as well as installation of air purifiers to remove mold from the ventilation systems in three other homes. Photo courtesy Friends of JCDS.

There is one Shawnee organization that appears to set to utilize some of the federal coronavirus relief funds allocated to the city.

The city council on Monday unanimously recommended approval of city staff’s plan to direct $18,850 of aid s to Friends of Johnson County Developmental Supports, a local nonprofit, for projects on some of its homes in Shawnee for people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.

Friends of JCDS is planning renovations of one home on West 69th Terrace to improve accessibility, as well as installation of air purifiers to remove mold from the ventilation systems in three other homes. City staff said these projects meet federal and city requirements for coronavirus relief reimbursement.

Once the city officially approves the request from Friends of JCDS at a future council meeting, then $226,947 of the $245,797 from the pool of federal money allotted in September will remain for future allocation.

Grashoff, the neighborhood planner, said Shawnee may begin another round of its own small business assistance grant funding in the first quarter of 2021. In addition, she noted, $13.5 million is also available through Johnson County for small business assistance through Dec. 30.

Shawnee has six years to spend the federal coronavirus relief funds.

Below is a video recording of the committee meeting. The staff presentation begins at 17:35, and council discussion begins at 38:16.