FILE - Virus Outbreak Kansas

Customers Randy and Nancy Cree eat dinner in the dining room of the Chic-A-Dee Cafe In Topeka, Kan., Tuesday, May 5, 2020. Some booths are closed in order to maintain distance. Restaurant dining rooms, retail stores and some offices began reopened after Kansas lifted a statewide stay-at-home order. 

(The Center Square) – Kansas small businesses will soon be able to apply for a new tax relief program that's launching in the state, but some business groups say the relief is too little, too late.

House Bill 2136, also known as the COVID-19 Retail Storefront Property Tax Relief Act, was signed into law in June. The program will provide eligible businesses that were shut down in 2020 or 2021 with partial tax refunds, and is covered by federal funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Gov. Laura Kelly's office said this week that the program's application process will open next month.

“The financial assistance provided through this program will give Kansas entrepreneurs resources to continue to grow and invest in their businesses,” the governor said in a news release. “Proactively verifying [Unique Entity Identifier] registration will help small business owners receive this relief quickly and efficiently once the program’s application portal opens in October.” 

Kansas Chamber President and CEO Alan Cobb said the relief "is long overdue – and in some cases, too late."

Cobb noted Kelly vetoed the Legislature's first attempt to “do the right thing for Kansas retailers” that were forced to shut their doors because of the government COVID-19 restrictions on businesses.

“If not for the relentless pursuit by key legislators, especially State Senators Caryn Tyson and Kelly Warren, and struggling business owners who shared their stories like Ryan Floyd, owner of Body Fit Bootcamps, there would be no relief program,” Cobb said. “It is our hope the program isn't bogged down by unnecessary bureaucracy and that the governor's administration makes the application and award process as streamlined as possible so retailers get the relief they long deserved."

Adam Mills, president and CEO of Kansas Restaurant and Hospitality Association (KRHA), is thankful that funds have been set aside to assist small businesses in the state. Like Cobb, Miller said the industry “suffered tremendous harm from the Covid restrictions and closures.”

“Our industry members lost nearly $335 million in the first month alone,” Mills said. “Many states stepped up and quickly provided programs to help aid those businesses who were harmed.”

Mills noted that Illinois used ARPA funds to create a $275 million relief fund. North Carolina created a program awarding $300 million, while Iowa created a program specifically for restaurants and bars that offered up to $25,000 for each business who suffered more than a 10% drop in revenue, according to Mills.

“During the 2021 Legislative Session, KRHA worked with a coalition representing small businesses to pass SB 273 which would have set up a relief fund of $100 million from federal ARPA aid for small business only to see Governor Kelly veto it,” Mills said. “So here we are, two years later and one year after passing SB 273 and gone forever are nearly 800 restaurant business locations from our state.”

For those still in business, Mills said a $5,000 tax credit repayment will prove helpful, but it won't necessarily make up for all the damage done. 

“Over the course of the last year: exorbitantly inflated food costs, extreme pressure on the demand for labor, and inflated fuel prices are keeping our low profit margin businesses desperate for answers but clinging for hope knowing there are still more ARPA funds available in Kansas,” Mills said. “We hope that post-election there is a chance for restaurants to come back to the table and revisit this important issue.”