WICHITA, Kan. (KSNT) – Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly has forgiven $5 million given to 344 Kansas businesses Tuesday after converting all Hospitality Industry Relief Emergency loans to grants.

The state government started the HIRE funding in March 2020 to provide relief to Kansas hospitality businesses faced with income losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was originally started as a working capital loan program through NetWork Kansas, and now the funding issued will no longer need to be paid back. Businesses that made repayments will be reimbursed, according to the governor’s office.

“In communities of all sizes, hospitality businesses provide a source of shared space and shared identity,” Kelly said. “This action allows the loan dollars we delivered at the beginning of the pandemic to no longer need to be paid back, helping businesses maintain operations as we work to recover from the challenges brought about by COVID-19.”

Businesses who received a portion of the $5 million in loans now turned to grants include restaurants, bars, lodging facilities, conference centers and event spaces, according to Lieutenant Governor and Commerce Secretary David Toland.

“Working with our wonderful partners at NetWork Kansas, we moved quickly to roll out a working capital loan program that delivered millions of dollars to hundreds of hospitality businesses in communities statewide,” Toland said. “Today, we’re announcing an important step forward in helping these businesses get back on their feet and recover from a very difficult situation.”

Anyone who received a HIRE loan will see an email explaining when they can see the loan forgiveness or reimbursement take place, according to the governor’s office. It plans to have the program completed in the next 30 days. The Department of Commerce will also notify all of its partner organizations to stop collecting loan payments on the HIRE funds.