2020 | Coronavirus

Council president, state officials call for Hogan to release $1B relief package

Governor plans to propose stimulus relief package in 2021

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Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker and state and local officials called on Hogan to release a state COVID-19 relief package on Wednesday.

State and local officials in Maryland on Wednesday urged Gov. Larry Hogan to release a $1 billion COVID-19 relief package to help businesses and residents who are financially struggling during the pandemic.

Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker was among those who said Hogan needs to use money from the state’s more than $928 million rainy day fund, more than $1.5 billion in reserves and $586 million positive general fund balance to provide more economic relief to businesses and residents.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin were among the others who spoke in favor that idea during a press conference on Wednesday.

Franchot said during the virtual press conference that he has identified at least $2.5 billion that could be sourced from the funds, but the group is asking for a one-time state stimulus plan of $1 billion to be released.

“This money is available. It’s sitting in a bank account gathering dust,” he said. “I’m not talking about a tax increase or [any decrease] in mandated spending. I’m talking about something which is one time for emergency use. It’s there and it was put there for this purpose.”

Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, wrote in an email to Bethesda Beat Wednesday afternoon that the governor plans to pursue a larger stimulus relief package when the General Assembly returns for its 2021 session, starting next month.

He referred to a statement Hogan released on Tuesday on the congressional COVID-19 relief package that passed on Monday.

In the statement, Hogan said the package “does not do enough.”

“More still needs to be done, including by Congress, to help our economy and our workforce,” Hogan said in the release. “In Maryland, we have announced more than $600 million in emergency economic relief. And when the General Assembly returns to work for the 2021 session, we will be proposing a larger economic and stimulus relief package to provide further support to our struggling families and small businesses.”

Hogan announced last week that was providing $180 million more for hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, rural businesses, health care providers, cash assistance, and other needs.

Franchot said the state also can secure more funds by temporarily raising its debt limit and getting an extra $1 billion.

“We cannot, as a government, demand that businesses temporarily shut down or reduce services and then not compensate those businesses for taking the steps necessary to save and protect lives,” he said.

Hundreds of thousands of residents have “fallen through the cracks” and been greatly hurt by the pandemic, Franchot said.

Kopp said there is no better investment for the state than its communities, families, workers and businesses.

“I’m the chief investment officer of the state and I know a good investment when I see it. … We have not only a responsibility, but a great interest in supporting them now,” she said. “Just as we see the light at the end of the tunnel, we have to get there.”

This is the time to use the rainy day fund, which can be replenished, Kopp said.

“We can use it to invest and keep our economy going,” she said. “Maryland has a AAA bond rating, in great part because of good management. Good management calls for good investment where it’s needed. This is the time where it’s needed.”

Maryland and local governments were awarded $2.3 billion from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund through the Coronavirus Relief, Aid and Economic Security Act in the spring.

Montgomery County received $183 million from the same federal fund in the spring.

Hucker said the unmet needs are immense and growing for residents. One in every four small-business owners say they’re likely to close their doors in the next six months, he said.

“[The state] has an unexpected surplus this year and it has a well-funded rainy day fund — a resource that lawmakers carefully saved up year after year, specifically for an economic crisis like the one we’re living through,” Hucker siad. “The state doesn’t just have funds. It has responsibility to use our tax dollars properly to relieve suffering for our residents and our small businesses.”

Residents shouldn’t go hungry and businesses shouldn’t shut down while those state funds sit idle, he added.

Others who spoke at the press conference included:
• Willie Flowers, president of the Maryland Conference of Branches for NAACP
• Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby
• Anne Arundel County Council President Sarah Lacey
• business owners
• nonprofit representatives
• a Montgomery County resident struggling with rent.

Officials said they were disappointed that the congressional COVID-19 relief package — passed on Monday — did not include state and local support.

The group of state and local officials calling on Hogan for state relief has launched a website called Maryland United for COVID Relief Now.

The website includes a petition demanding that Hogan release funds from the state’s rainy day fund for business and resident relief.

“Gov. Hogan should do everything in his power to prevent more of our small businesses from closing and more residents from losing their jobs due to an unavoidable virus,” the website states.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.