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March 07th, 2021

gov. laura kellyELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

The year 2020 presented many challenges for many people, and Kansans were no exception. 

Tuesday evening, Gov. Laura Kelly talked about some of those challenges faced during the annual State of the State address.

“Here in Kansas, we're all neighbors, and we're all here to support you, in every way possible,” Gov. Kelly began. “It's been a time of such loss for so many. Too many precious lives lost, businesses lost, jobs lost, critical time in the classroom for our children lost. The losses in our lives have been countless. But we never lost hope. The way Kansans have stepped up these past 10 months has been nothing short of heroic – from health care workers to first responders, teachers and parents, farmers and ranchers, the character of Kansas has been on full display. And I want to commend state and local officials who continue to work around the clock with the public health experts to make sure we're taking the right, aggressive, steps to slow the spread of the virus, while also balancing the need to keep the Kansas economy moving.”

kartunz article 1 2021Gov. Kelly also talked about the state’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

“After months of struggle and sacrifice, an end to this national nightmare is finally in sight. Last week, my administration released the phases of our vaccination distribution plan,” Gov. Kelly said. “We worked diligently for months, together with our federal and local partners, to develop a plan that would prioritize the health of the most vulnerable, reduce the strain on hospitals, and help us kickstart our economy. While our state initially experienced a reporting lag of vaccines administered, the CDC vaccine tracker is now showing Kansas is in the top tier for vaccines administered per capita. We are working as quickly as we can to safely, efficiently deliver the vaccine to all Kansans. Much of our ability to distribute the vaccine is dependent on the federal government getting the vaccine to us. As of last Tuesday, more than 80,000 Kansans have been vaccinated, and we will continue this coordinated effort. The first to receive vaccines have been those directly overseeing our COVID response efforts – hospital workers and long term care staff and residents. We expect to be moving into the second phase before the end of this month, when we will begin vaccinating our seniors, because we know Kansans 65 and older are the biggest at-risk group. As we continue our phased approach, we will add other priority groups including those living in congregate settings, those below the age of 65 with severe medical risks, and other essential workers. And then, hopefully, over the next few months, the rest of the general public. Again, this depends on how quickly the federal government gets the vaccine to Kansas. We are not out of the woods here, not by a long shot. But, we will get through this crisis, with the vaccines. The latest information about distribution instructions and timelines will always be available at our Web site, kansasvaccine.gov.”

Gov. Kelly also addressed work being done to help the state’s economy.

“We are set to launch the Framework for Growth, a comprehensive roadmap to ensure that the Kansas economy continues to thrive and that our most valuable resource – our young people – have exciting career opportunities right here at home,”  Gov. Kelly said. “I’ll briefly speak to five areas of economic growth that we've focused on: small businesses, infrastructure, new job creation, agriculture, and broadband. This has been a challenging period for small business owners, with so many having to adapt in different ways to the virus, and a very difficult time for anyone who works in a small business. Small businesses, as we know, aren't just workplaces, they're the heartbeat of Main Street in so many Kansas communities. We have been able to help nearly 3,000 small businesses across the state with grants for payroll and other expenses. But we know more must be done. That's why I'm pleased about the resurrection of the Kansas Main Street Program and the launch of the Main Street Affiliate Community program. These programs provide funding and technical assistance to help transform and strengthen rural downtowns. I'm proud Democrats and Republicans came together last year to pass a 10-year infrastructure plan – it's a strategic, practical approach that allows us to prioritize the most urgently needed projects. As we speak, more than 160 state highway and local road projects are under construction or about to be, and another 230 projects have been awarded for future construction. That means better roads, better bridges, walking and biking paths, and an overall more modern transportation infrastructure from top to bottom.”

Gov. Kelly also acknowledged the frustration that has been seen with unemployment benefits during this time. 

“The fact is, the volume of benefit applications absolutely overwhelmed our unemployment system. I want you to know we've fixed many of the immediate problems and more Kansas have received unemployment benefits since the pandemic started ten months ago, than in the eight previous years combined. Should we ever be confronted with a health and economic crisis as staggering as this pandemic, we've committed $37.5 million in this year's budget to update old IT systems that have been neglected for decades. While it's imperative we modernize our IT systems, what's more important is making sure unemployed Kansans can get back to work. We're moving quickly to bring new jobs to Kansas communities, big and small. We've announced projects like Urban Outfitters' new distribution center at Kansas Speedway in Wyandotte County that will create 2,000 new jobs and invest more than $350 million in Kansas. And when the Schwanns Company expansion project in Salina is complete, Salina's location will be home to the largest frozen pizza production facility in the world, and bring 225 jobs to the community. These past two years, we've recruited new businesses and helped create more than 20,000 jobs – that's pumped more than $3 billion into our local economies.”

Including, Kelly said, into agriculture.

“In typical Kansas fashion, Kansas farmers and ranchers have stepped up, even during those first very scary days of COVID-19, and kept doing their jobs. They knew, pandemic or no pandemic, people need food,” Gov. Kelly said. “My administration partnered with local and federal officials to make sure we kept these critical food supply chain workers safe and kept production online. The entire nation, and the entire world owes these Kansans a huge debt of gratitude. At the state level, we invested $12 million to increase the capacity of the state's food supply system. I will always support our agricultural employers and workers because we all know agriculture built Kansas, and it will be a driving force in rebuilding our economy as we emerge from this pandemic.”

Agriculture is one of many industries increasingly relying on high speed internet, Gov. Kelly said.

“In today's economy, businesses small and large depend upon broadband – both because this pandemic has required many of us to work remotely, and because of the broader shift we have seen from retail to etail commerce,” Gov. Kelly said. “I signed an Executive Order establishing Kansas's first Office of Broadband Development. Through it, we've distributed nearly $50 million in Connectivity Emergency Response Grants. We have to keep pushing on this issue, and it needs to be a bipartisan push because access to high speed internet will be a game changer for communities. It's a tool to recruit new businesses and keep existing ones from leaving. It's also a tool to provide care through telehealth services to rural and underserved Kansans, and it's a tool for children and their education. This pandemic has shown learning remotely is difficult enough, but to do it without reliable Internet is impossible.”

Gov. Kelly then praised the work of Kansas teachers. 

“Every one of them has been teaching under less-than-ideal circumstances, but never wavering in their commitment to our children,” Gov. Kelly said. “Stepping up under tough conditions is nothing new for Kansas teachers. They've been doing it for years. Remember, when we took office two years ago, the state was still reeling from a disastrous tax experiment that absolutely crushed our public schools, even forcing some to go to 4-day school weeks. We fixed our public schools once already, bringing Republicans and Democrats together to constitutionally fund education for the first time in many years. We're going to get every Kansas student back in the classroom as soon as possible, and provide teachers with the tools and resources they need.”

Kansans have been tested like never before through these times, Kelly continued.

“This year, working together isn't simply something I want, it's something we owe to the people of Kansas,” Gov. Kelly said. “As leaders, we must commit ourselves to set an example. In how we conduct ourselves. In the things we say to each other, what we post on social media, in what we tell people back home in our communities. This year, we must show Kansans that, even when we stand on opposite sides of the aisle, we still always share a common bond as Kansans and Americans. And right now, that means doing whatever it takes to get Kansans back to work, back to school - and back to a place where we treat each other with respect and dignity. We need to listen to public health experts. We need to listen to each other. We need to listen to the people of Kansas. And then we need to lock arms, not as politicians from one party or the other, but as Kansans. The decisions we make, and the example we set, in the coming weeks and months will have a lasting impact on their lives. And on our beloved state of Kansas. Let's rise, together, to meet this moment.”

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