KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) - The paycheck protection program meant to help businesses and non-profits survive the economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic is out of money. The senate is hearing a new relief bill Tuesday that would add more than $300 billion to the depleted program. One local entity that already received help from the program is the Kansas City Zoo.

The Kansas City Zoo has never been closed this long. No visitors have been allowed in nearly a month.

“It’s presented some challenges for the zoo operation, but we’ve got into a pretty good rhythm now,” Zoo Director Randy Wistoff said.

Wistoff is working from home two days a week. The rest of the zoo’s 200 or so full-time employees are working staggered shifts taking care or nearly 2,000 animals, doing spring projects on the grounds, and doing the best to keep the animals connected to the public. With live video feeds of otters, penguins and fun online interactions like story time with a python or tortoise races.

“People ask and the animals do miss having people around,” Wistoff said.

Wistoff says he applied to the federal paycheck protection program as soon as it opened for applications. The zoo was awarded a loan of two and a half times what their payroll would be for an eight-week period.

“For sure if we had not gotten the loan, we would’ve had to lay off somewhere between 30% and 40% of our staff. They’re just would not have been the cash flow to pay for them,” Wistoff said.

The money can also be used to pay utilities.

“And you can imagine keeping all these animals warm in the winter and cool in the summer, our utility bills are pretty big,” Wistoff said.

If payroll and utilities are all it’s used for, the loan doesn’t have to be paid back. Which is a blessing because the financial future of the zoo is uncertain. The biggest fundraiser of the year, Jazzoo is now postponed until the end of August, but it is unclear if things will be back to normal by then.

“The biggest unknown in this is the date when we do open, and what will visitors expect?” Wistoff questioned.

With or without visitor’s, life goes on for the animals.

The zoo hopes to get feedback from other zoos across the country that reopen before May 15. There will likely be a lot of changes like one-way traffic through the grounds, social distancing rules, and possibly some closed attractions.

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