Maryland has a rainy-day fund, so why not use it? Community members and state and local leaders made that appeal Wednesday to help failing businesses, people behind on rents and families short on food.
At a virtual event sponsored by the Montgomery County Council, President Tom Hucker and several others, including business owners and first responders, appealed for state help.
“Our rotating bills do not stop,” said Lakeisha Battle, of Southern Peach BBQ and Soul Food in Suitland. “I have depleted my complete savings just to save 50% of my employees from being jobless and homeless.”
Going to work every day fighting the coronavirus and staving off the pandemic devastation facing the community is “relentless,” according to Brian Holtslander, a firefighter and paramedic in Anne Arundel County. “Our firefighters and paramedics are exhausted and our PPE is stretched thin,” he said.
Aje Hill, CEO and president of I Believe In Me, Inc., in Frederick, said that over the past 48 weeks, his organization has paired with food banks and ordinary people “doing extraordinary things to feed some 50,000 people in our community.”
Describing the heartbreak of having to lay off workers, Eddie Wingrat, owner of Flowers & Fancies in Owings Mills, appealed for Gov. Larry Hogan to release the Rainy Day Fund noting, “It’s pouring; it is truly pouring.”
“These are not statistics, this is real life stuff,” Wingrat said. “These are human beings.”
So, what should be prioritized? Hucker said rental assistance, homelessness prevention, food insecurity and support for small businesses would top his list.
“It’s not just the humane thing to do, it’s the fiscally conservative, fiscally responsible thing to do to keep a business afloat and to keep workers employed,” Hucker said. “Nobody is going to replace that business and rehire those workers in this kind of environment. It makes much more sense and it’s more economically sound to just keep them going.”
Describing “unmet needs as far as the eye can see,” Hucker said one in four businesses surveyed said they’re likely to go out of business in the next six months; and in Montgomery County alone, there are 100,000 families facing food insecurity without a steady supply of food.
Some 240,000 Marylanders are $300 million behind in their rent and facing eviction, which becomes a fiscal problem if they become homeless, costing the state and counties even more money over the long term.
“We’re already seeing a huge uptick in our homelessness, and I know that’s the case in Charles County and Anne Arundel County — it’s going on everywhere,” Hucker said.
The state has the money to spare to help, according to Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, who said that he has identified a total of $2.5 billion in reserves that could be spent from the Rainy Day Fund and the FY 2020 General Fund positive balance from last June 30.
“Those are two chunks of unallocated, available money right now,” Franchot said, adding that as the state’s paymaster, he could get checks out right away to those who qualify.
“We know who many of these individuals are, and the money is sitting there gathering mold so why don’t we put it to good use,” Franchot said.
The virtual meeting was said to be a first event in what will be a continuing campaign to persuade Hogan to release rainy day funds for COVID-19 relief.
There’s a petition people were encouraged to sign at the Maryland United for COVID Relief Now website.
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