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Hogan says more state aid for businesses on the way

Gov. Larry Hogan and Delaware Gov. John Carney at the Cherry Lane Farm in Hurlock on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

Gov. Larry Hogan and Delaware Gov. John Carney at the Cherry Lane Farm in Hurlock on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

HURLOCK — Businesses in Maryland can expect another round of state aid.

Gov. Larry Hogan, speaking at a farm on the upper shore, pledged another round of aid for struggling state businesses at the same time he was announcing $10 million in aid for contract chicken farmers in Maryland. Hogan said he and other governors are pushing for additional federal aid in the form of another stimulus package, but the two-term governor said he isn’t likely to wait for Washington.

“We’re also looking at additional resources we at the state level can put in,” the governor said. Hogan stopped short of offering details.

“We have a budget shortage just like all the businesses do, but we are going to be announcing additional (aid),” said Hogan. “We’re going to continue to do everything we possibly can to help not just these small business people who happen to be in the ag business but every small business across the state, many of which are really struggling, particularly our folks in the hospitality industry, restaurants, retail. We are probably going to make some announcements on additional programs very shortly.”

More than 81,000 loans were given to Maryland businesses as part of the federal Payroll Protection Plan. The more than $10 billion in aid went to a wide spectrum of businesses in the state including restaurants, bars, hotels, hospitals, private and religious schools and law firms.

The loans are forgivable if the businesses used the majority of the money to continue paying employees. State fiscal leaders have said the program is partially responsible for propping up the state’s economy and preventing an expected massive decrease in state revenues.

The state also provided $175 million in aid in the form of loans and grants to some businesses through the Departments of Commerce and Labor.

In recent weeks, Comptroller Peter Franchot has called on Hogan to use more than $500 million from the state’s unallocated surplus or the $1.2 billion rainy day fund to provide a round of state-funded stimulus for small businesses.

“The comptroller’s solution was to drain our rainy day fund, and we don’t think that’s a good idea when we have a $1.8 billion budget shortfall,” Hogan said Monday. “That would mean the elimination of many of our state agencies and laying off tens of thousands of state employees and not being able to provide services.

Hogan held a roundtable discussion with a group of nearly two dozen farmers in a barn on the Cherry Lane Farm. Following that closed meeting on the wheat, corn and soybean farm, Hogan and Democratic Delaware Gov. John Carney announced the two states would provide aid to contract chicken farmers who have been hard hit by the pandemic.

“It keeps our farmers, hopefully it helps them to stay afloat in difficult times when they’re having trouble meeting their expenses every month,” said Hogan. “Some of these farmers, they’re small family arms, many of them. They’re living on the edge just like any other small business, which they are. They’re really struggling.”

The $10 million program in Maryland, paid for with federal funding from the CARES Act, will help offset losses for farmers who either had to slow chicken production or were forced to slaughter birds that never made it to market.

Mary Lou Brown is one of those family farmers. The Hurlock resident owns and operates Maple Breeze Farms, a six-house contract chicken farm with her daughter about a mile from where Hogan made his announcement.

“Growing chickens during the pandemic was very different, and we did the best we could with that,” said Brown, who started the operation in 2001 with her now-deceased husband.

The six houses on her farm currently hold about 130,000 birds.

Brown typically grows chickens on a 56-day cycle, delivering 8-pound birds to Perdue. Slowdowns because of  the virus and outbreaks at some processing plants extended the process and meant Brown did not have the five 56-day cycles she’d typically have in a normal year.

“It’s been a challenge,” said Brown. “It’s meant less money overall for me because there wasn’t as many pounds. I’m paid by the pound, and we just didn’t have as many pounds.”

State aid would mean Brown could avoid tapping lines of credit to help keep the farm afloat.

“It will get me through,” said Brown.

The federal government has already offered farmers in the state $40 million in aid in two rounds. None of that money was available for contract poultry operations, which is the state’s top agricultural business.

Under the state plan, contract poultry farmers would be eligible for a $1,000 per chicken house payment for up to five houses. Growers who were forced to cull their flocks during the pandemic would be eligible for an additional $1,500 per house.

Delaware will offer a similar aid program for contract poultry producers in that state, according to Carney.

Additionally, farmers who received federal aid earlier this year could receive an additional 15% under the program announced by Hogan.

“If we don’t have these family farms, the food supply chain would be interrupted and then your people wouldn’t be getting their chicken and you certainly would be paying a lot more for it if we lost all these farmers,” Hogan said.


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