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Baltimore to spend $55 million in COVID relief aid on workforce development, economic recovery programs

Baltimore will spend $55 million worth of its $641 million from the American Rescue Plan Act on workforce development and economic recovery programs, Mayor Brandon Scott announced Tuesday.

Over the next four fiscal years, the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development will receive $30 million to grow job placement and training programs for young people and disadvantaged job seekers. The remaining $25 million will be divided up between five organizations to create an Economic Recovery Fund for small businesses, nonprofits, child care groups, artists and the hospitality industry in Baltimore.

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At a news conference Tuesday afternoon outside of the Youth Opportunity Eastside Center in the city’s Broadway East neighborhood, Scott touted the plan as one that will target communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic by bringing more job opportunities to Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

Scott said the money would bolster the city’s ongoing work to fight what he called dual public health crises: the pandemic and the trend of violence that has the city on pace for a seventh straight year of at least 300 homicides.

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“Today, we build on that effort with a historic investment with a focus on putting Baltimoreans back to work and providing a lifeline to our small local businesses that have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic,” he said.

So far, Scott’s administration has announced how it will spend about half of the COVID-19 relief money from the federal government. In October, the mayor announced $80 million would go toward COVID-19 testing and prevention efforts and $50 million would go toward violence reduction projects. Another $141 million will go toward balancing upcoming city budgets, hit hard by pandemic-related costs.

Tuesday’s announcement comes as the mayor’s administration and the City Council continue to debate how the federal dollars should be allocated. The council unanimously passed a bill this month requiring administration officials to provide monthly, quarterly and annual reports on how the funds are being distributed and what impact they are having, over objections from the administration that monthly reports could be onerous for officials.

During a City Council hearing about the funds Tuesday, members raised questions about whether there has been sufficient outreach to city agencies and nonprofits about what projects are eligible for the federal COVID-19 relief funds.

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So far, 47% of the applications have been rejected, said Shamiah Kerney, director of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs. In many instances, applications have been determined ineligible for the ARPA funds because the project proposed was not tied closely enough to COVID-19 or its economic impacts, Kerney said during the meeting.

“The number of agency proposals have been deemed ineligible … says to me that perhaps there’s a misunderstanding on the part of the agencies as to what is eligible versus what is not,” Councilman Eric Costello said. “It may make sense to reach out to the agencies to take another shot at educating them as to what would be a good use of their time to pursue.”

The application for city agencies and nonprofits to receive some of the funds is open until Dec. 31st. Their projects must cost at least $250,000.

Council President Nick Mosby and Councilwoman Sharon Greene-Middleton also raised concerns about using ARPA money to establish city positions that may need to disappear after ARPA funds are exhausted.

But Kerney said the temporary positions are necessary to handle the influx of federal cash and the new programs stemming from it.

“We can’t have it both ways,” she said. “We can’t want effective implementation of our programming and funding and not have the people to do it.”

Council members like Costello also have asked if the funds could be used to help reduce a backlog in the delivery of certain city services. To do so, the city agencies would need to show that their backlogs were worsened by staffing shortages or other problems caused by COVID-19, Kerney said.

Here’s more detail about how the ARPA spending announced Tuesday will be allocated:

Mayor’s Office of Employment Development

  • $5.2 million will go to the Hire Up program, a transitional jobs program offering six-month, $15 per hour positions to about 220 low-income city residents.
  • $8.9 million will go to Train Up, which will offer training programs and $100 per week stipends to about 1,000 residents for jobs in biotechnology, business services, health care and information technology.
  • $2.9 million will go to behavioral health services, financial counseling and other support for participants in the Hire Up and Train Up programs, plus wage subsidies for small and minority-owned businesses in the city that hire residents impacted by the pandemic.
  • $8.4 million will go to YouthWorks to allow that program to provide some year-round services, rather than just summer programming, for the first time in its 30-year history. With the money, YouthWorks will be able to serve 4,000 young people over two summers and provide jobs to 100 young people during the school year, Scott’s office said.

Economic Recovery Fund

  • $11.7 million will go to the Baltimore Development Corp., the city’s economic development agency, to spend on relief to small businesses — particularly those owned by Black, Brown and women residents.
  • $8.3 million will go to the Baltimore Civic Fund to disburse to over 300 city nonprofits.
  • $2 million will go to the Family League of Baltimore to support Baltimore’s child care industry.
  • $500,000 will go to Baltimore’s Office of Promotion and the Arts to support local artists and creators with direct grants and other efforts.
  • $2.5 million will go to Visit Baltimore to aid the city’s hospitality industry, particularly its hotels.

Baltimore Sun reporter Phil Davis contributed to this article.

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