Howard County joined the State of Maryland in December to release additional emergency COVID relief funding for businesses and support programs.

Gov. Larry Hogan announced a $180 million package that includes $50 million for hotels and hospitality businesses from the state’s emergency rapid response fund. This funding will be distributed by local jurisdictions top go toward payroll expenses, rent, and utilities in order to keep operations going while travel is restricted.

Also included is $30 million to replenish the state’s relief program for bars and restaurants, which will now total $80 million. An additional $15 million will be funneled to entertainment venues through the state’s Main Street program at the Maryland Department of Housing, bringing that total to $35 million.

As part of a new relief initiative, the governor announced $5 million to help socially or economically disadvantaged tech-based businesses in rural communities.

The governor’s relief package also includes $40 million to provide a $100 boost to more than 66,000 Maryland families during the next six months under the Temporary Cash Assistance Benefit program, and $40 million for health care providers by beginning their 4 percent increase on January 1, six months ahead of schedule.

County Support

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced the reallocation of $6.5 million in county Rainy Day funds in fiscal 2021 to immediately ensure critical pandemic support for residents, businesses and families, pending County Council approval.

This aid includes $2 million for the Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA) to issue additional grants and low interest loans; $1 million to create infrastructure for additional ICU and bed capacity at Howard County General Hospital (HCGH); $1 million in housing assistance to prevent evictions and foreclosures; $1 million for food and utility bill assistance; and $1.5 million for the extension of education support and childcare programs.

Safeeq Ahmed, interim president of HCGH, said the hospital has seen an increase in patients seeking help for mental health crises during the pandemic.

“This funding will help transition our capacity in our emergency room behavioral health unit to a new, larger and renovated location to help us care for more patients and improve flow in our hospital,” he said.

Larry Twele, CEO of HCEDA, said more than 1,400 grants have been deployed to county businesses through December.

Need Growing

During the pandemic, the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks has provided affordable, flexible childcare support for about 150 students each week at eight locations through its Rec Zone program, to include free meals.

The program enables parents to return to work and ensure their children have the support they need to attend school virtually.

“Even if the school system returns to a hybrid model, Rec Zone will continue until the end of the school year,” said Nicola Morgal, Recreation and Parks superintendent.

The county also provides free social and emotional development opportunities for more than 100 students at more than 10 middle school students through the Howard County Scholars program, targeting the arts enrichments, college and career readiness and social justice curricula.

Since the pandemic began, it has also provided more than 7,000 meals to the homeless, nearly 10,000 meals for needy families, and more than 38000 meals for older adults.

“We have seen significant increases in the need for food, shelter, clothing and utility assistance across all strata within our county,” said Jackie Scott, director of the Department of Community Resources and Services.

Kelly Cimino, director of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development, said the county was awarded $2.3 million in federal funding and $2.4 in state funding for its nonprofits to support 400 renter households pay up to three months of past due rent.

“The CDC order on evictions expired on Dec. 31, and the Governor’s moratorium on foreclosures expires on Jan. 31,” she said.

Far From Over

According to Sameer Sidh, Ball’s chief of staff, Howard County’s share of the governor’s newly announced state funding amounts to $1,625,891 for hotels and $1,503,611 for restaurants.

“We still need to execute grant agreements for both and will need authorization from our County Council to spend the additional grant funds,” Sidh said. “We are engaging in both of those processes now.”

It’s welcome news to businesses and organizations.

“The governor’s recent announcement of an economic relief package to assist hotels, bars and restaurants was very welcome news to me in both my capacity at The Mall in Columbia as well as on the Board of Visit Howard County,” said Barbara Nicklas, the mall’s senior manager and as president of the Howard County Tourism board of directors. “These industries have been greatly challenged throughout the pandemic and they have worked very hard to keep their businesses afloat.”

“This pandemic is far from over and many people cannot wait for relief that is needed now,” Ball said. “There are still months before we can begin to return to normalcy.”

By George Berkheimer | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly