Democrats in Maryland’s congressional delegation and Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) hailed the COVID-19 relief and federal appropriations measures that cleared the U.S. House and Senate this week, saying they will provide significant benefits to the state.
President Trump was expected to sign the bill, but he released a four-minute video on Twitter Tuesday night calling the aid package “a disgrace,” and suggesting he might wind up vetoing the measure.
Even if the funding legislation goes through, it isn’t immediately clear how much money the state will receive under each line item, but Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) said Tuesday afternoon the state should receive about $6 billion in new federal aid and direct payments to individuals.
Maryland likely will receive more than $1 billion for education (including $868 million for local school systems) and more than $1 billion for transportation, enough for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority to eliminate proposed sharp service reductions and massive layoffs.
The $600 assistance checks, extended unemployment insurance and payroll protection benefits that eligible individuals are to receive will amount to approximately $1.3 billion, Maryland’s senior senator said. “That’s in our economy. That’s helping our businesses. That’s helping Maryland.”
Among the other highlights that he and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) outlined in a virtual news conference on Tuesday:
- $402 million for rental assistance
- More than $460 million for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, testing and tracking
- Approximately $150 million in discretionary funds to the Maryland Department of Transportation
- Record funding — more than $87 million — for the Chesapeake Bay [see related story]
- $76 million for the Baltimore area’s transit system
- Unspecified funding for dredging the Port of Baltimore and to expand broadband access in Baltimore and in rural areas
The federal legislation “does provide critical relief at this moment for our country,” Van Hollen said. “It will get us through these very tough winter months as we continue to fight the pandemic and try to make sure our economy can first tread water, but then get up and running to fuller steam.”
“These are important funds to deal with the current deficits,” Cardin added.
Democrats said they expect Congress to approve additional aid after President-elect Joe Biden is sworn-in in January.
FBI headquarters search to get jump-start
The bid to move the FBI to a more modern and secure suburban campus has been “reinvigorated,” Van Hollen said. For months, President Trump blocked the government from finishing its site search. The president’s critics have long alleged that he feared that the dilapidated Hoover Building in Washington, D.C., might be redeveloped into a hotel that would compete with a hotel the Trump Organization operates across the street.
Republicans in Congress aided his efforts to protect the Trump International Hotel from competition. But with the president set to leave office, lawmakers approved language to “restart that project,” Cardin said. “The only reasonable alternative for the FBI… is a campus-type security facility.”
The General Services Administration had previously shortlisted two Prince George’s County sites — in Greenbelt and Landover — and a third parcel in Virginia as being suitable.
“We hope to pick up where we left off” when Trump blocked the long-planned move, Van Hollen said.
The measure also provides states and localities an additional 12 months to use any unspent funding they received under the CARES Act, the first COVID relief measure that Congress approved earlier this year.
The added flexibility is expected to assist counties that have been forced to juggle their finances.
On Tuesday Howard County Executive Calvin B. Ball III (D) announced that his county would offer $6.5 million in economic development grants and low-interest loans; aid to Howard County General Hospital; housing, food and utility bill assistance; and child care programming.
Cardin, Van Hollen and Hogan all expressed disappointment that Congress refused to provide additional support for state and local governments, who have seen expenses soar and revenues hurt by the pandemic.
Democrats and a small group of GOP governors had urged Congress to approve such aid, but Republican leaders viewed it to be a “bailout” for states that have overspent.
“After more than eight months of pushing to get this done, I am relieved that Congress has finally passed a COVID-19 relief bill to help struggling families and small businesses,” Hogan said in a statement. “This took much longer than it should have, and the delays were inexcusable.
“But with so many people hurting right now, any kind of relief — even if it is only short-term — is certainly better than nothing,” he added.