WASHINGTON, D.C. — Somerset County and its two municipalities will share over $10 million to recover from revenue losses and extraordinary expenses caused by the coronovirus pandemic.
It’s part of the $1.9 trillion contained in the federal American Rescue Plan signed into law March 11 by President Joe Biden of which Maryland is receiving $2.317 billion.
It’s the same legislation that provides direct payments of $1,400 to all but higher income taxpayers, extends unemployment benefits, and expands earned income and child tax credits.
Specifically for Somerset County government, it will receive $4,968,065 which represents 12.5% of the current year’s budget.
Crisfield is due $2,142,984 which is about half of the FY21 budget while Princess Anne will get $2,936,155 which is $414,000 more than the budget approved by the Town Commissioners last year. It will now fall on the commissioners together with their new manager Clayton Anderson who starts work this week on the best way to spend it.
Final interpretation and guidance on what is specifically allowed is still being determined, and County Administrator Doug Taylor told the commissioners last week he will have more on that in the near future. The spending deadline is Dec. 31, 2024.
In general the funding can replace lost revenue, and it allows money to be spent responding to or mitigating the COVID-19 health emergency or its negative economic impacts on households that had unexpected childcare expenses due to virtual learning or to offer utility assistance in case of job loss.
It can also be used to assist small businesses including those in the tourism, travel, and hospitality field, and non-profits.
It can cover essential worker premium pay, make investments in water and sewer system or broadband infrastructure — the former being of special interest to Crisfield and the latter to Somerset County which recently completed a study showing where broadband connectivity is lacking.
Other services including Shore Transit will benefit as it will receive $1.4 million. U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both Maryland Democrats, voted for the bill which did not receive a single Republican vote. “This sweeping package will put our state and our nation on the road to recovery,” Sen. Van Hollen said. “Help is now on its way to the American people.”
Congressman Andy Harris said in a statement only 9% of the spending bill was directly attributable to combating the public health crisis, and that significant funding from the last COVID-19 relief bill remains unspent.
One of them was the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which was to be spent by the end of 2020 but the deadline is now April 1. Through the CARES Act under President Trump’s administration it provided Somerset County $4,469,794 of which half went to the Health Department. Of the remaining half the County Commissioners cleaved off 10% each for Crisfield and Princess Anne which both receiving $223,490.
The Somerset County Economic Development Commission was allotted $750,000 to aid qualified businesses including watermen, and Somerset County Public Schools received $403,000 primarily for laptops for grades 6-12.
Through a later federal initiative, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations (CRRSA) Act, local schools were earmarked an additional $6,009,403.
“One of the most morally bankrupt things this country can do is borrow money from our future generations, that are already under unprecedented debt, to pay for a liberal wish list that’s just payback to political supporters,” Congressman Harris said. “But that’s exactly what the Democrat-controlled House and Senate did.” “[T]his bill...spends way too much.”