Virus Outbreak-Kansas

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions from reporters after announcing that she'd order all public and private K-12 schools in the state to close for the rest of the semester, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Kelly issued the order in hopes of checking the spread of the coronavirus, and her action will move learning online for students. 

TOPEKA, KS (AP) -- Kansas on Friday launched a program to provide short-term, no-interest loans to bars, restaurants, taverns and motels that are struggling to cover operating expenses because of the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

The program announced by Gov. Laura Kelly and state Commerce Secretary David Toland will make up to $5 million in loans, though Toland said the amount could grow. The program will supplement federal Small Business Administration loans that Kansas expects to become available within days.

Toland also said that the Department of Commerce has directed communities that have received $6 million in development grants, typically for sprucing up downtowns or make infrastructure improvements, to use them to assist struggling businesses.

"While our top priority is to keep Kansans safe and healthy, there's no question that these major disruptions to our daily lives pose a serious economic threat to Kansas businesses and workers," Kelly said during a Statehouse news conference.

Kelly's news conference with Toland, other state officials and representatives of business groups came after conservatives in the Republican-controlled Legislature argued that some of Kelly's actions were too aggressive, stoked panic and risked severe harm to the businesses. They were particularly upset that she ordered the state's K-12 schools closed for the rest of the spring, rather than just a few weeks.

Kansas has had more than 30 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, including one death. The vast majority of infected people recover and most people have mild or moderate symptoms, but the virus can lead to serious illnesses in some people, particularly older adults and people with underlying health conditions.

Some communities, including Kansas City-area suburbs, Topeka, and Lawrence, have told businesses to stop allowing dine-in services. Chuck Magerl, the owner of the Free State Brewing Company pub in Lawrence, said his business is "plunging on a day-by-day basis."

The new program will make loans of up to $20,000 available. Toland said Kansas is tapping funds it normally uses to close deals to lure companies to the state, and another $13 million is available if Kelly wants to tap it. Legislators also approved a state budget with an additional $50 million for coronavirus responses that will available in July.

Kansas Labor Secretary Delia Garcia said the state has received more than 11,000 initial unemployment claims this week, a 524% increase over the roughly 1,800 it received last week.

Meanwhile, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that the Kansas National Guard was preparing to distribute medical supplies recently received from the nation's stockpile. State Adjutant General Lee Tafanelli said martial law, quarantine enforcement or other draconian measures outside "the realm of possibility."

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press.

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