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Maryland announces $250 million package for small businesses


ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced $250 million in state cash for the ailing economy Thursday for programs that will give grants and loans to restaurants, small businesses, shuttered entertainment venues and struggling arts organizations.

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As federal stimulus talks drag on in Congress, Hogan announced that he would use about half the state's budget savings from last year to expand existing programs and fund new ones to help floundering small businesses. The sum roughly doubles what the state already has pumped into similar programs.

"It's a desperate situation," Hogan said. "Many businesses . . . they're hanging on by a thread. They may not make it another month or two."

Requests for help from Maryland's small businesses has far outpaced resources - even with about $10 billion in aid from the federal Paycheck Protection Program going to 81,000 state businesses, the governor said.

In two weeks in late March and early April, nearly 20,000 small businesses applied for aid through the Maryland Small Business COVID-19 Relief Grant Fund program, prompting the state to shut down the application window and start a waiting list that remains. About 4,000 applications were approved before the state ran out of money. 

Hogan put another $45 million into the program in July. He announced Thursday that the latest infusion of $50 million will clear the backlog of businesses that qualified and had been waiting since the spring. 

It was not clear Thursday whether the state will accept new applications. 

The largest share of new funding announced Thursday - $100 million - will go to what Hogan calls the Emergency Rapid Response Fund for Small Businesses. He said the money will be set aside until the administration determines how it could best be used. 

If federal aid arrives before the end of the year, the rapid response money might not be used, he said. 

A new program will give $50 million in grants for the state's roughly 11,500 restaurants, which amounts, on average, to $434 per business. The money would not have to be repaid, and it could be used on a variety of expenses such as expanding outdoor dining, paying rent, upgrading technology to improve carryout business or buying personal protective equipment. Local governments would dole out the money. 

The state initially had expected enormous budget deficits for the fiscal year that ended June 30 because of pandemic-related shutdowns. But the multibillion-dollar infusion from the first waves of federal help - plus some cutbacks in Maryland's budget - left the state with $500 million more than expected.

Another program that helps small businesses avoid layoffs will grow from $10 million to $30 million, with money supplementing employee income and financing telework operations so employees can stay on the job. 

Smaller initiatives aim to keep hard-hit businesses afloat, including $20 million for local entertainment and "Main Street" small businesses; $5 million in low-interest loans for disadvantaged entrepreneurs; $3 million to arts organization and artists; and $2 million to promote "hometown tourism" by marketing local stores, businesses and attractions.

"We're hoping these are the right things and that it will be enough, but we really don't know," Hogan said, adding that what the state's economy really needs is a major stimulus package from the federal government.

Hogan encouraged local leaders that have taken a slower pace to reopening to reconsider. Montgomery, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, as well as Baltimore, have not fully embraced Hogan's guidance to reopen every business, citing health concerns.

The governor said contact-tracing data showed that the top source of coronavirus infections continues to be small family gatherings and house parties. He said the state is closely watching a slight uptick in hospitalizations over the past two weeks, urging people to stick to proven strategies of mask wearing and social distancing.

The greater Washington region on Thursday recorded 2,114 new coronavirus cases and 21 additional deaths. Virginia added 1,332 new cases and nine deaths, Maryland added 743 cases and 12 deaths, and the District of Columbia added 39 cases and no deaths.

Thursday's caseload was the highest in a single day across the region since Oct. 8, when 2,673 infections were announced, fueled by a one-day reporting issue in Virginia. 

Despite the daily increase, the regional rolling seven-day average of new infections stood at 1,709 cases, holding mostly steady for more than a week. Maryland's daily average has risen through October, standing Thursday at 633 cases - the highest since Sept. 17. 

The pandemic's economic fallout was evident Thursday, when figures from the Labor Department showed 25,669 new unemployment claims were filed last week in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. That's up slightly from 23,369 claims filed a week earlier.

 

 

Published : October 23, 2020

By :  The Washington Post · Erin Cox · NATIONAL, HEALTH, HEALTH-NEWS