It took weeks of prodding, but Maryland’s small counties will soon begin receiving federal COVID-19 funds from the state.
Department of Management and Budget Secretary David Brinkley informed county leaders of the Hogan administration’s decision to release the funds on Monday afternoon, in a memo obtained by Maryland Matters.
The decision means $182 million in federal funds intended to help local health departments and hard-hit small businesses will begin to flow to Maryland’s smallest counties.
The CARES Act, the federal legislation providing novel coronavirus funding to the states, stipulated that counties with populations of 500,000 or more would receive aid directly. The measures mandated that small counties apply to their governor.
That requirement left 19 Maryland counties wondering whether — and when — they would receive federal funds, a development that caused weeks of tension between local leaders and the Hogan administration, a reliable source said.
“I don’t understand why the smaller jurisdictions are treated differently than the larger jurisdictions,” said Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D).
Although Montgomery, Prince George’s, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties received federal funds directly, the leaders from all five subdivisions signed a May 1 letter to Hogan urging him to release bottle-necked funds to their smaller brethren. (Officials from 22 of Maryland’s 24 subdivisions signed on, in a show of unity.)
CARES Act funds are intended to reimburse local health departments for personal protective gear and other items related to the COVID-19 epidemic. They can also be used for grants to businesses impacted by the crisis.
According to the Maryland Association of Counties, which coordinated the letter to Hogan, the state received $1.29 billion from the CARES Act, of which $364 million was intended for the counties.
In his letter to local leaders on Monday, Brinkley said counties with populations below half a million people will receive half their eligible funding now. They can seek the second half of the funding down the road, he wrote.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R) said the monies will help his health department buy PPE and it will allow Harford to offer grants local businesses need to make modifications in order to reopen.
“This will allow our local economic development departments to set up some programs to set up some programs to get funding out to the community, which we think we can do quicker,” he said.
In a call with General Assembly leaders on April 22, Glassman said it was unfair to make smaller counties jump through an extra hoop to get federal funds when all governments are facing the same challenges.
“We’ve been working on this for about three weeks now, just pushing and pushing against the reimbursement method,” he said in an interview on Monday.
“Most smaller counties do not have the capacity to forward-fund programs and then come back and ask for reimbursement. The spirit of the CARES Act was to get that to us so we wouldn’t have to forward fund.”
Glassman said Harford business owners have been asking why the county isn’t offering programs similar to those that have been launched in neighboring Baltimore County.
Under the federal formula, a county the size of Harford qualifies for $44.6 million in aid. The Hogan administration’s decision will release the first $22.3 million.
“They’re just as trustworthy,” Elrich said of the smaller counties. “They deal with [grant] money all the time. There’s no reason to treat them differently.”
Local leaders said it’s unclear why small counties had to press so hard to get the Hogan administration to release CARES Act funds.
“I never got a good answer,” Glassman said.
“There just seemed to be some kind of disconnect that somehow Maryland’s medium and small counties were not able to handle these kinds of funds,” he added. “That’s the only thing I can think of.”
By Bruce DePuyt