In the News
Salina Journal | Charles Rankin
Sen. Jerry Moran met with local leaders via Zoom on Friday, hearing concerns about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting Salina and Saline County.
Moran treated the meeting much like a town hall, listening a lot and talking a little.
Health at a county level
After some introductions, the meeting began with the senator hearing an update on the COVID-19 situation in Saline County from county health officer Jason Tiller.
Tiller told Moran things were going well in the county, particularly with testing.
One aspect Tiller touched on was the Walmart-sponsored testing that began last month. He said that program has gone well and will likely continue in the county. Despite some early concerns with reporting from the testing program, Tiller said those issues are getting resolved.
“Results are coming in much faster,” Tiller said.
Moran was glad to hear that testing is being done.
“By significantly increasing testing we can get ourselves back to better circumstances closer to normal,” Moran said.
The senator said by getting more testing it will be easier to follow the pattern of the virus and treat and isolate people who test positive so that more people are able to get out.
Moran told Tiller and Saline County Emergency Management director Michelle Barkley to offer suggestions to his office on how to help the supply chain of materials reach Kansas.
Tiller said supply chains have been generally good, with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment getting testing supplies out. Barkley said the Kansas Department of Emergency Management is also doing well in supplying personal protective equipment (PPE). Barkley said one area regarding PPE that could use some improvement was with the supply of isolation gowns.
Moran apologized for some of the anxiety and uncertainty caused by supply chain issues.
“Our country clearly was not prepared for what we needed to have in this circumstance,” Moran said.
The senator said as much of the national stockpile as possible has made its way to Kansas and that it’s up to the private sector now.
Business and the economy
Moran also heard from business leaders in the community such as Mitch Robinson, of Salina Community Economic Development; Scott Bergkamp, of Bergkamp, Inc.; and Linda Salem, of Great Plains Manufacturing.
Robinson said the business community was thankful for the relief of things such as the Paycheck Protection Program, although the process and length of time it took for many of those funds to arrive could have been better.
Moran said he believes the PPP has been helpful to Kansans. He said he realizes there were early hiccups with processing and applications, but it was successful overall for the state.
“I think we were successful in getting money to businesses and their employees ... pretty quickly,” Moran said.
He said a little over $5 billion has come to Kansas through the program, with the average loan being around $44,000.
“That suggests to me that we’re getting to people who are in business for themselves, and that’s really encouraging to me,” Moran said.
Unified School District 305 superintendent Linn Exline was on hand and spoke to the senator about how education in the area is going in these different times.
One of the key issues Exline mentioned was getting technology and internet access to all students.
“We paid a premium to get that access to our students for this spring,” Exline said.
She said going forward with the possibility of intermittent classroom time in the fall, internet access is a big concern that the district could use help on.
School lunches were also discussed. Moran said funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that is helping supply lunches is set to continue through the summer.
Exline said the flexibility of aspects of that funding has been very helpful to the district, students and overall community.
Local and state government
Representatives from local and state government were on the call, as well.
State Rep. Steven Johnson and state Sen. Randall Hardy discussed some of the struggles of getting federal funding to local places that need it.
Moran was optimistic that with the situation, it will be easier for states and local governments to access those funds.
“I think the federal government will provide more flexibility to how the money is spent,” Moran said.
Salina city manager Mike Schrage said he was thankful for the opportunities the federal government has offered to local governments in the first few phases of relief, as it has benefited the city and its employees.
“I tune in with a lot of interest as to where this next phase may go in terms of local funding,” Schrage said.
As the city is dependent on sales tax for a lot of revenue, it is helpful to have federal relief to help bridge budget gaps that will occur.
Schrage also mentioned an Economic Development Administration project the city is working to develop with the senator’s help.
“I think if that can happen, it can be a shot in the arm for the region,” Schrage said.
Grateful for the time
To end the Zoom call, Moran said he was thankful for the conversation and discussions during the call.
“I hope it was of value to you,” Moran said. “Anytime we can be of help to Salina, Saline County (or) central Kansas, whatever we’re missing, make sure we know.”
He said he will take the things learned and try to make things better for the region and the state.