Tests show more than 50,000 Kansans with virus, fatalities rise to 586
By TIM CARPENTER
TOPEKA — Community banking executives advised Kansas legislators Wednesday to be aware of potential for dramatic escalation in business and residential foreclosures or evictions in early 2021 unless the federal government delivers a new COVID-19 stimulus package.
Injecting businesses with federal disaster assistance and the state’s ban on foreclosures and evictions built up a reservoir of economic peril that may be unleashed during the first quarter of next year absent a fresh government bailout, banking officials told a joint House and Senate committee working on economic recovery recommendations.
“Be aware of the concerns of your counties and your cities,” said Blake Heid, president of First Option Bank, a Paola community bank. “They anticipate, if there will be problems, seeing issues start to arise with December tax payments. Banks would know first or second quarter of next year if past dues start to rise.”
Brad Yaeger, president and chief executive officer of Legacy Bank in Wichita, said actions by the Federal Reserve to funnel cash into the economy and multiple rounds of stimulus packages, including larger unemployment checks and access to business loans, helped companies and individuals make loan payments during the pandemic.
“However,” he said, “some of them have only a little gas left in the tank. Each city has a different need depending on the industries that drive their economies, but a little tax relief on real estate taxes and income taxes may be warranted if a vaccine does not get approved by year end.”
The two banks funded a combined $59 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans designed by Congress to help struggling businesses make payroll and keep people off unemployment. Together, these Kansas banks issued more than 900 PPP loans that averaged about $65,000 each. Legacy Bank’s smallest loan was for $129 and the largest for $2 million.
“PPP loans were lifelines for many of these businesses and kept them from closing their doors permanently,” Yaeger said.
Kyle Kessler, executive director of the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas, said the 26 licensed community facilities providing behavioral health services across Kansas must grapple with anxiety and depression resulting from job losses during the pandemic.
In a Kansas survey, he said, the percentage of people who know someone suffering from mental health issues has risen 9 points since last year.
However, he said the state’s safety-net clinics have reported a reduction in the number of new patients compared to this time last year.
“Some believe a whiplash effect may occur where the system will see a significantly high number of new patients in a short amount of time when people feel safer to seek treatment in person,” Kessler said.
He recommended the Legislature consider requiring the Kansas Department of Health and Environment begin approving Medicaid-financed therapy without the patient physically present at a clinic. It’s a useful tool for helping youth and others enrolled in Medicaid while their parents, foster parents or other caregivers aren’t part of the program, he said.
Derek Schmidt, the attorney general for Kansas, suggested the House and Senate committee work on revising the Kansas Emergency Management Act to make it a more effective tool during a “widespread, long-lasting sometimes highly intrusive government response to disasters such as the pandemic that affects the state unevenly.”
He said limits imposed by Gov. Laura Kelly regarding closure of businesses and limits on in-person gatherings proved to be a blunt instrument. Those steps did little to contain the public health crisis, the attorney general said, but fueled the economic crisis.
“Even now, the hangover from those earlier, centrally ordered statewide lock downs, and the fear they will return, continues to stir debate and foster uncertainty in our state,” Schmidt said.
Kelly has said repeatedly it wasn’t her intention to again direct businesses to close in an attempt to restrain spread of the virus. It was a pledge that helped convinced Republican leaders in the Legislature to concur last week with the governor’s request to extend the state’s emergency disaster declaration.
So far, KDHE reports, there have been 50,870 positive tests for the virus, 2,516 hospitalizations and 586 fatalities in Kansas since March.
Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.