2021 | Government

Council considering $1.5M fund to help small businesses pay rent

$61.6M more in federal money might go to transportation, residential rent relief

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The Montgomery County Council is considering spending $1.5 million to help retail stores and service businesses pay current or overdue rent.

The proposed allocation, spearheaded by Council Member Will Jawando, was introduced during the council’s meeting on Tuesday. The proposal has to come back before the council for a final vote.

The Small Business Rental Assistance Program would be funded by undesignated reserves, but there could be another funding source, too, according to a staff report.

Businesses would qualify for three months’ rent or up to $10,000, whichever is less, if they:
● Are located only in the county, or if the county-based locations account for more than 50% of the business’s total number of employees or 50% of the business’s gross revenues
● Receive $500,000 or less in annual revenue prior to the pandemic
● Are classified as a retail or service-related business but not a restaurant or food service business
● Have a commercial lease in the county
● Can demonstrate revenue loss due to the health crisis

Public hearings and votes on funds, as well as federal funds for residential rent and utility relief and transportation are scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 23.

Jawando said priority should go to minority- and women-owned businesses, as well as those that lease space in ZIP codes that have been affected by greater numbers of COVID-19 cases.

“[Those businesses] have been really hard hit in this economy and may not have been able to navigate either (the Paycheck Protection Program) or some of our other efforts like (the Public Health Emergency Grant program) to get assistance that they need,” he said.

Jawando said $900,000 in leftover federal funds for the county’s reopening grant program could be redirected to the new rental assistance program.

The Montgomery County Small Business Association and the Latino Economic Development Center would administer the program.

The council is also considering an additional $61.6 million in federal funding for pandemic-related relief for transportation and residential rent and utility assistance.

Of the $61.6 million, $31.4 million would be funneled to residents who have been affected by the pandemic and are in need of rental and utility assistance.

According to a staff report, as many as 15% of county renters were delinquent on part of or all of their rent in June. Of the more than 9,000 applications submitted for a previous rental assistance program, 43% of applicants were Black and 38% were Hispanic.

The average overdue rent was $3,360, but some households that lost income early in the crisis owed $10,000 or more, according to the county.

Pepco has estimated that Maryland residents owe $71 million on utility bills, while the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission estimates another $67 million.

The county’s Department of Health and Human Services, which will administer the funding, has not set the criteria. Prioritization will go to households earning 50% or less of the area median income and those unemployed for more than 90 days.

The remaining $30.2 million would be used for personnel costs for Montgomery County Department of Transportation bus operators during the pandemic.

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