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Harford County to receive about $44.5 million in federal coronavirus relief funding

Harford County is expected to receive approximately $44.5 million in federal coronavirus relief from the CARES Act in two installments, County Executive Barry Glassman said Friday.

The funding, which will be broken up into two payments, will go toward expenses caused by the coronavirus, but cannot be used to defray revenue lost by counties, a stipulation the National Association of Counties is working to change.

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Glassman said the first $22.2 million should be arriving in the next week or two, and it will be jointly administrated by county government and the Harford County Health Department.

Counties with a population of more than 500,000 people, according to guidance released from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, can apply directly to the treasury for the funds, but counties below that threshold must apply through the states. Harford County’s relief funds will come from the state.

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Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, along with Baltimore City, are the only Maryland localities that exceed 500,000 residents, according to the treasury.

It is worrisome that smaller counties have to go through an extra step to get reimbursement from the health department’s local satellites — some of which are smaller and not as able to comfortably handle such a large sum of money — while larger counties get funding directly, Glassman said on a Wednesday call with Maryland’s Joint COVID-19 Response Legislative Workgroup.

“Bureaucratically, it creates a whole extra step for that funding to go to a local health department,” he said on the call. “I’m not sure why our aid did not flow as the other aid flowed directly to local governments ... We are having to jump through an extra hoop and get reimbursement when we really should be getting aid directly to us."

The first half of the $44.5 million will be used to pay expenses directly related to the coronavirus — expenditures like buying personal protective equipment, hiring staff, paying for sanitation and purchasing medical supplies, Glassman said. He said the funding could also be used to pay for testing sites.

The second round of roughly equivalent federal funds will do much of the same, but Glassman is also hoping for flexibility to give small businesses a bump.

The economic considerations, he said, are important for both businesses and the county, both of which have seen a decline in revenues related to the closure of much of Maryland’s businesses — a fact underscored by the state comptroller’s prediction of over $2 billion in lost revenue across the state should the shutdown drag into June.

“We cannot go beyond, what, I would say June 1 at the latest,” Glassman said in an interview Friday. "There is a necessity, to some degree, to reopen the economy.”

Glassman said Harford County could lose $17 million in income tax alone during that same time period.

Critically, none of those federal funds can be used to offset revenue losses for counties themselves, Glassman said. He and the National Association of Counties, which Harford is part of, are pushing for flexibility to offset some of those lost revenues. The funds need to be used by the end of the calendar year, he said.

"It is a delicate balancing act, but for us, we think any kind of delay in opening into June will put Harford County and a lot of other counties in a pretty precarious position regarding revenue,” Glassman said. "We understand the use for reimbursement and business assistance and all the other things … but we would like some flexibility, particularly between funds remaining.”

While Harford County has enough of a fund balance to weather the shutdown in the short term, Glassman said those federal funds could provide significant help to the county if they could be more flexibly used.

NACo’s told counties, Glassman said on the Wednesday call, that Senate Republicans and President Donald Trump were hesitant to give counties latitude to use those relief funds to offset lost revenues.

"There is some indication that the President doesn’t want to do that or some Senate Republicans don’t want to do that to put pressure on governors and locals to, in fact, reopen,” Glassman said. "They don’t want to give that right away.”

Spokesperson for NACo Brian Namey pointed out that counties provide a multitude of services and that a loss in county revenue could impact those services. For that reason, the organization is working with legislators and the White House to reach an understanding.

"We’re optimistic that both sides can come together,” Namey said. “Right now this is a very dynamic situation.”

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