By JIM MCLEAN
Kansas News Service
LAWRENCE — Tish Cobb figures she lost about $15,000 in the spring of 2020 when state and local health orders aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus shut down her hair salon.
“I lost business,” she said, “for eight weeks.”
Subsequent orders that limited the number of customers she could serve also cost her money.
Now, she and other small business owners can recoup some of their COVID-19 pandemic losses through a program established by the Retail Storefront Property Tax Relief Act passed in the final days of the Kansas Legislature’s 2022 session and signed into law by Gov. Laura Kelly in June.
The law earmarks $50 million in federal COVID tax dollars for partial property tax refunds to retail businesses forced to close or cut occupancy during the pandemic. Businesses with pandemic-related losses in 2020 and 2021 are eligible for up to $10,000 – $5,000 for each year.
The Kansas Department of Revenue will start processing refund applications in October.
Revenue Secretary Mark Burghart said the agency is putting the finishing touches on a one-page application that business owners will complete online.
“We’re trying to keep this as simple as possible,” Burghart said.
A date hasn’t been set for the start of applications, he said, because the agency is still testing is website.
Only certain brick-and-mortar businesses are eligible for the refunds. Cobb’s salon, located in downtown Lawrence, qualifies. So do restaurants and other types of small retailers.
But the law excludes a long list of businesses, including grocery stores, pharmacies, liquor stores and service providers. Nonprofits, online businesses and companies that received more than $150,000 in Payroll Protection Loans or other types of federal and state COVID-19 assistance are also ineligible.
“That’s the way it should be,” Cobb said. “It was hard hearing about big companies getting bailouts when I don’t think they were impacted like we were.”
Refund amounts will be based on a businesses’ property taxes and the number of days it was affected by public health orders.
To assist businesses owners who may have incomplete records, the Department of Revenue has created a database of all the orders issued by the state and local governments during the pandemic. It will be linked to the online application form.
Business owners intending to apply for a refund from the state must first register online for a federal ID number. Due to a backlog, Burghart said, that could take some time. So, he’s encouraging businesses to start the process before the state begins accepting refund applications.
“Because,” he said, “we will not be able to accept the application without that number.”
Kansas businesses have until April 15, 2023 to apply for assistance.
Jim McLean is the Statehouse Bureau Chief for Kansas Public Radio and the senior political reporter for the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @jmcleanks.