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Kansas small businesses set to receive $50 million for COVID-19 relief

TOPEKA — A new law will provide $50 million to reimburse Kansas small businesses that suffered early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Storefront Property Tax Relief Act earmarks federal dollars for property tax refunds to businesses affected by forced closure or reduced occupancy during the first wave of COVID-19 cases. With no vaccine available, the Kelly administration and county officials have issued orders requiring non-essential stores to curtail mass gatherings.

Backed unopposed in the Senate and with only one vote against in the House, Bill 2136 was approved by Governor Laura Kelly on Thursday. For-profit businesses with pandemic-related losses in 2020 and 2021 are eligible for up to $5,000 in property tax refunds.

“Providing $50 million in small business financial relief is just one more way my administration is working to make Kansas the most business-friendly state in the nation,” Kelly said. “The Financial Relief Act I signed today will support our entrepreneurs by allowing them to make the investments they need to hire workers, strengthen their product lines and better serve their communities.

Kelly was joined on Kansas Avenue in Topeka by members of the local and national business communities, as well as legislative colleagues. They touted the relief the law would bring to businesses plagued by the closures.

Businesses that were closing permanently could be eligible for aid under the state initiative. Nonprofits and online businesses are ineligible, as are businesses that have accepted more than $150,000 from federal, state or local governments during the pandemic.

In passing the law, some Republican lawmakers, like Senator Caryn Tyson insisted the governor should not be given any credit because she decided to close businesses. Kelly dismissed the criticism, saying she had taken the necessary steps to curb the pandemic.

“As soon as it was clear that we could start reopening and re-energizing our businesses, we did it,” Kelly said. “I know there have been a lot of injuries in that time. Now we’re just doing more to make sure we strengthen them even more, so they can go away and thrive.

Many other US governors have responded to the pandemic by adopting masking, social distancing, testing and other measures to slow the virus until a vaccine can be produced and distributed.

The law also allows Atchison County to vote on a countywide sales tax.

Eric Stafford of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce said the business relief was due to a joint effort by stakeholders who showed “an unwavering commitment to small businesses in Kansas.”

“On behalf of the Kansas business community, thank you to Governor Kelly and the Legislature for supporting this legislation,” Stafford said. “This will relieve the small businesses that are the backbone of our state.”

Pedro Concepcion, an entrepreneur from Topeka, said it was a step toward revitalizing the small business community.

“COVID was a very impactful thing that happened, and we all suffered from it,” Concepcion said. “But we are strong in Topeka. We’re just going to keep going, keep helping each other and make sure we’re successful.