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Maryland officials launch small business rescue package

Commerce Sec. Kelly M. Schulz. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

“Our small businesses must survive, and our people must have jobs they can return to when things return to normal,” says state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, speaking at a Monday news  conference with Gov. Larry Hogan in the background. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan Monday tried to reassure businesses anxious about their future even as he announced additional closures.

“I can assure you that these actions, while incredibly difficult financially, will save the lives of thousands of your fellow Marylanders,” said Hogan. “We will have your backs in the weeks ahead. And we will do everything we can to help you get back on your feet and to help your employees recover.”

At the federal level, Maryland has been declared eligible for disaster relief through the Small Business Administration. Loans through the administration can be used for major expenses and payroll and be repaid back over a period as long as 30 years.

Hogan said he and other governors are also pushing the federal government for $100 million in dislocated worker grants.

The state is planning to offer a combination of programs to businesses in an effort to help them ride out the COVID-19 crisis with a $175 million business relief program.

“Our small businesses must survive, and our people must have jobs they can return to when things return to normal,” said state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz.

Maryland Small Business COVID-19 Fund will provide a $75 million fund of working capital to small businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 15 employees that have lost revenue due to the pandemic.

“It is our top priority to support our business community as much as we can during this difficult time,” Schulz said. “We have heard from hundreds of businesses about their greatest need right now, which is working capital, and designed these programs to have the most significant impact possible.”

Hogan said he also plans to make $50 million in grants available to small businesses that lose revenue because of the pandemic. Businesses can receive up to $10,000.

Another $5 million would be set aside for incentives to manufacture masks, personal protective equipment and other supplies to meet demands of health care workers.

And the Commerce Department will offer $40 million in emergency financing to assist small businesses and preserve jobs.

The Department of Labor will offer a $7 million COVID-19 Layoff Aversion fund. Businesses can apply for up to $50,000 in state money to keep employees on the payroll.

Funds from the layoff aversion fund can be used several ways, including purchasing equipment to allow employees to work from home, cleaning services at businesses delivering essential services and other measures aimed at staving off layoffs.

State Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson said her department will provide two-day responses to businesses that apply.

Additionally, Robinson said, the state’s unemployment benefits program is prepared to provide payments to displaced workers, including a work-share program in which employers can reduce a worker’s hours. The worker could then also collect a portion of their weekly unemployment benefits.

“Unprecedented actions are being taken to save the lives of Marylanders,” said Robinson, adding that her department “is doing everything in our power to support and protect our small businesses and our workforce.”

The closures of all but essential businesses is expected to trigger a huge surge in unemployment claims. Workers in Maryland can apply for those benefits immediately.

“I’m not sure if anyone has an updated estimated number at this point, but obviously it’s going to be something we’re going to be very concerned about,” said Hogan of the jobless claims.

As Maryland enters third week since the first cases of COVID-19 were announced, there are 288 confirmed patients. More are expected as testing expands.

Hogan said the state is fighting “twin battles” to protect lives and also stave off economic disaster.

“So we don’t take any steps and hundreds of thousands, millions of people in America are going to die,” said Hogan. “We do take the steps and hundreds of thousands, millions of people are going to be hurt economically. It’s a terrible choice. The solution is we try to save lives and then we try to save the economy. Unfortunately, in the situation we’re in, you can’t make the choice. We don’t want our businesses to die and we don’t want people to lose their jobs, but we also don’t want to lose so many people.”

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