Montgomery County Council members questioned why only a fraction of millions of dollars in aid for residents hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic had been spent in the Maryland county.
In a briefing before the county council on Tuesday, Richard Madaleno, Chief Administrative Officer for County Executive Marc Elrich, and Earl Stoddard, director of the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, told council members that the federal regulations to access aid had become increasingly stringent.
Madaleno told council members that in the past, getting federal funding and reimbursements was a relatively simple process.
“We all lived through you know, Snowmageddon and the Snowpocalypse and there was an emergency, and we got FEMA dollars,” Madaleno told the council,
But under the current administration in Washington, Madaleno said, “We’re now dealing with a federal administration who is telling you it didn’t snow.”
Stoddard told council members, “My experience with FEMA is generally that if they can find a reason not to reimburse you for something, they’re going to find it.”
He said fulfilling the federal requirements to demonstrate a need for aid was taking much longer than expected.
But Montgomery County Council President Sidney Katz was not convinced.
“We can blame whoever we want, and we should, but we need to make certain that the money that we’re deserving of is the money that we’re getting,” Katz said.
Looking over figures provided by Elrich’s office that showed a fraction of the millions appropriated for aid to residents had been spent, council member Andrew Friedson, said “I can’t imagine how frustrating that is for the 1.1 million residents who are desperately trying to get through the most challenging time in our lifetimes.”
Council member Nancy Navarro brought up that just $607,000 of $20 million appropriated for rental assistance and eviction prevention had been allocated.
“There’s just no excuse for the fact that so much of this money has not been out there,” she said. “What are these people supposed to do in the meantime?”
Council member Tom Hucker expressed surprise that Elrich didn’t attend the briefing to address the council directly.
“This is the most important stuff facing the county — this is food and shelter,” Hucker said.
Stoddard told council members that he accepted some of the blame for not being able to get “money out the door” faster.
“I could have done better in recognizing what we weren’t doing well,” said Stoddard.
But council member Craig Rice said, “I appreciate you saying that, but the reality is — and any boss knows this — that ultimately the buck stops with them.”
Council member Gabe Albornoz said he recognized that the workload to process aid requests was unprecedented, but that the county council should have been informed of the Elrich administration’s need for more assistance.
“We’re setting everybody up for failure right now, and it’s not fair,” Albornoz said.
Elrich sought to provide rental assistance and eviction protection with a $20 million appropriation in federal CARES money in July.
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