The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Businesses hurt by Purple Line construction need $2 million set aside for grants, Maryland lawmakers say

Sisters Abeba and Lene Tsegaye have been operating the Kefa Cafe in Silver Spring for 24 years but say they’re worried the Purple Line’s construction will force them to close due to a significant drop in business.
Sisters Abeba and Lene Tsegaye have been operating the Kefa Cafe in Silver Spring for 24 years but say they’re worried the Purple Line’s construction will force them to close due to a significant drop in business. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Officials in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties say the Maryland Department of Commerce should release $2 million in state aid set aside for busi­nesses hurt by the Purple Line’s construction before they begin to go under.

During the last General Assembly session, Maryland lawmakers required that the money be used for grants to businesses struggling along the Purple Line alignment as of July 1. However, the money has not begun flowing, said Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery).

Wilkins said she and other public officials are concerned that delaying the aid much longer will result in businesses closing, especially after they have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic on top of three years of light-rail construction. She said she knows of a hair salon that recently closed along the Purple Line alignment in downtown Silver Spring.

Purple Line uncertainty leaves residents, businesses in limbo

Wilkins called the delay in awarding the grants “irresponsible” and “unconscionable,” especially now that Purple Line construction is expected to take longer because the project’s private concessionaire quit over cost disputes with the state.

“It’s just appalling that we have a fund there to help them, and the money sits there untouched,” Wilkins said.

Business owners along the 16-mile alignment between Bethesda and New Carrollton have reported losing customers and revenue because streets have been narrowed or blocked, utility services have been disrupted and parking has disappeared.

Wilkins said she has asked Gov. Larry Hogan’s office and the Department of Commerce several times about the status of the grants but that “it’s been complete silence.”

Businesses seek state aid to weather losses from Purple Line construction

Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan (R), said Commerce Department officials recently gave legislators an update on the status of the funding.

“This and other spending fenced off by legislators is under review while we determine the extent of our unprecedented fiscal challenges,” Ricci said. “Making the situation even more complicated, the legislature did not provide a mechanism for actually distributing the funding. . . . We continue to work with the community and local businesses to collaborate and find opportunities to minimize any impacts to the best of our ability.”

Maryland takes over managing some Purple Line work after contractor quits

Wilkins, who said she spearheaded efforts to designate the $2 million, said she was unaware of any state briefing to lawmakers. She also questioned why the Hogan administration hadn’t released the money when the governor recently announced $250 million in grants and loans to small businesses, restaurants and others hurt by the pandemic.

Hogan has said that money will come from the state’s rainy-day fund.

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