“This is an unprecedented moment, and it requires unprecedented actions,” said Montgomery County Council member Andrew Friedson (D-District 1), who drafted the bill establishing the Public Health Emergency Grant Program.
Montgomery’s relief package consists of $20 million in grants and $5 million in funding for the Department of Health and Human Services to assist low-income residents struggling to acquire food, housing and child care.
Local businesses and nonprofits with 100 or fewer full-time employees can receive up to $75,000 if they are able to “demonstrate financial losses caused by the public health emergency.” They may also apply for up to $2,500 to purchase teleworking equipment.
Julie Verratti, co-owner of Denizens Brewing in Silver Spring, said the $75,000 will go a long way for local restaurants and bars, which have been “burning through cash” since Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) ordered them to close in-person services.
But Ronnie Heckman, who owns Caddies on Cordell in Bethesda, said he does not think the grant funding is enough to support the thousands of businesses in Montgomery.
“It’s pennies and what we need is dollars,” said Heckman, who added that he has already had to let employees go because of the drop in revenue.
In the District, officials began accepting applications Tuesday for a grant program intended to help independent contractors, nonprofits and businesses that are ineligible for unemployment insurance. The grants, funded by the office of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), can be used to cover employee wages and benefits, rent and utilities. Eligible applicants can receive up to $25,000.
“The public health emergency is causing real devastation to many small businesses and their workers,” council member Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who chairs the Committee on Business and Economic Development, said in a news release. “While recognizing there is still a long road ahead, the DC Small Business Recovery Microgrant Program will begin to help some of our small businesses weather this storm.”
The District passed emergency legislation this month extending unemployment eligibility for those affected by the public health emergency, allowing businesses to defer paying February and March sales taxes until July and giving hotels a 90-day extension for property tax payments.
In Montgomery, council member Craig Rice (D-District 2) has asked to appropriate $260,000 in funding for the Manna Food Center. The Silver Spring nonprofit works with county public schools to distribute “Smart Sacks” for low-income children to eat over the weekend, when there are no handout meals provided by the school system.
Meanwhile, council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large) has requested $250,000 to subsidize lodging for health-care workers near their workplaces — an idea, he said, suggested by leaders at Adventist Healthcare, which operates two hospitals in Montgomery County.
In Alexandria, the council unanimously approved a matching grant of $100,000 in city funds to the ACT for Alexandria community foundation, to help solicit donations from the community for food, housing, medical needs and other items. The council also approved a grant of $20,000 to the ALIVE food bank, which will pay for bulk-food purchases equivalent to 17,000 meals.
As lawmakers begin their annual budget review process in the District and its suburbs, some have called for fiscal restraint and leniency with tax deadlines to provide a greater cushion for affected residents down the road.
Both Loudoun and Fairfax counties in Virginia gave residents an extra month to pay local property taxes for automobile and business equipment, with Loudoun’s deadline now on June 5 and Fairfax’s on Aug. 28.
Fairfax also made its Connector bus line free for an indefinite period, and Prince William County donated $10,000 to three local food banks.
“The future is very uncertain,” said Ben Wu, chief executive of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corp. Local retailers, restaurants and hotels are increasingly concerned that when the public health crisis passes, he said, it will be “an incremental and slow return back to normalcy.”
Montgomery council member Nancy Navarro (D-District 4) introduced a resolution Tuesday calling on the council to focus on “continuity of operations” in the fiscal 2021 budget and to cut back on spending where possible.
In a letter to the council on Monday, County Executive Marc Elrich (D) said it is clear that the operating budget he proposed last week, which included big funding increases for public schools, does not reflect the “fiscal emergency” facing the county. He said he has instituted a hiring and procurement freeze for all programs not directly engaged in the coronavirus response and has directed the Finance Department to formulate an estimate of how county revenue will be affected by this pandemic.
“This will not be an easy task,” he said in his letter. “We need to make difficult decisions that will change the nature of our government.”
Rachel Chason, Antonio Olivo and Patricia Sullivan contributed to this report.