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Harford County Executive Glassman spends final $2.1 million in CARES Act funding on public school system

Harford County Public Schools was the recipient of another $2.1 million in federal CARES Act funding, allocated by Harford County Executive Barry Glassman.

It was the final allotment of the $44.6 million in CARES Act funding the county had received in May; the deadline to spend the federal funding is Dec. 30.

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Approximately half of the CARES — Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security — Act money had to be spent on economic relief measures while the other half was to be spent on COVID-19 health related expenses.

“I am thankful to my staff and pleased that we were able to put all $44.6 million back into our community,” Glassman said in a statement issued Monday. “I have always been confident that local governments are among the best at getting help into the hands of the citizens we serve.”

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All told, Harford County Public Schools received $7.1 million in CARES Act funds. A $5 million grant was distributed to the school system in October.

Approximately $1.8 million of the latest allocation will cover food and supply costs, curriculum and professional development stipends, Learning Support Center pay and vehicle rental to allow facilities workers to physical distance, according to data provided by HCPS.

On Monday, the Board of Education approved a $301,078 purchase of 130 “interactive panels” plus hardware to support those panels, from Chicago-based CDW Government. The panels will be installed in school facilities around Harford County as HCPS officials work to replace “end-of-life whiteboards.”

The school system will spend $297,756 in CARES Act funds allocated by the county, augmented by $2,244 from its own operating funds, for the purchase.

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“These panels replace the traditional projector and whiteboard, which have become antiquated,” according to a report included with the consent agenda for Monday’s meeting.

The interactive whiteboard technology has become “so incredibly important over the last few months,” HCPS Superintendent Sean Bulson noted during the meeting, especially as teachers provided simultaneous instruction to students in their classrooms and those learning virtually when schools were open on a hybrid basis for elementary pupils in late October and early November.

“Many of our whiteboards are over a decade old, and we’re having a hard time keeping the software updated,” he said.

Bulson also noted how the federal relief funds also will help the schools recoup costs in other areas, such as the Food and Nutrition Services department, which has overseen the distribution of meals to families in need since the pandemic started in the spring.

The superintendent extended “a huge thank you” to Glassman for keeping school officials apprised of the availability of CARES Act funds as the county executive’s administration received multiple requests for assistance during the pandemic.

How Harford’s CARES Act funding was spent

The public health half of the CARES Act funds received by Harford County was primarily used to pay for personal protective equipment for first responders, cleaning supplies and renovations to enable social distancing, and telework for public employees, according to a county news release.

On the economic relief side, Harford County offered a variety of grants through CARES Act funding to small businesses, as well as restaurants, childcare providers and farms affected by the pandemic. There were 1,732 businesses that received some form of a grant, according to the county government’s records.

The federal funding was also used help some residents pay water and sewer bills, $2 million was granted to local volunteer fire companies to help offset COVID-19 related expenses, and county government temporarily suspended credit card convenience fees for certain online payments made through the county’s website.

As of midday Tuesday, it was unclear what role, if any local governments like Harford County will have in distributing additional funds in the new year after Congress passed a $900 billion pandemic relief package — along with a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill — on Monday night.

The massive catchall bill combines coronavirus-fighting funds with financial relief for individuals and businesses. It would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants, and theaters and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.

In a statement, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he was relieved Congress finally passed the COVID-19 relief bill, but that the effort “took much longer than it should have, and the delays were inexcusable.”

The bill goes to President Donald Trump for his signature, which is expected in the coming days.

According to the Associated Press, Congressional Democrats failed to deliver direct fiscal relief to states and local governments, but they successfully pressed for $22 billion to help states and local governments with COVID-19-related health expenses like testing and vaccines.

“We are deeply disappointed that this package does not include support for state and local governments, which continues to be desperately needed as we battle COVID-19 on the front lines,” Hogan, a Republican, said in his statement. “But with so many people hurting right now, any kind of relief — even if it is only short-term — is certainly better than nothing.”

Glassman said he and other county leaders were working with both the National Association and Maryland Association of Counties to determine what, if any, local support might be part of the bill.

“It’s such a last-minute, 4,000-page bill, I just know generally what’s in it, but we don’t have a good idea if anything is coming down to [the counties],” Glassman said. “We’re waiting on reports from MACO and NACO to get an exact synopsis of what’s in there.”

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The county executive has previously expressed his concern about the federal assistance for small businesses and restaurants running out, particularly during slower winter months of January and February. The already slow time, coupled with the possibility for rising COVID-19 cases as the weather gets colder and the potential for additional capacity restrictions, could significantly harm those businesses.

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Glassman had held back on the second round of business grants until December, in hopes of getting a clearer picture from Congress on any additional relief prior to the year-end deadline to spend CARES funding, or an extension of that deadline.

“Congress fooled around so long, most counties, we had to get these payments in line and processed,” he said.

Earlier this month, Hogan announced a financial assistance package, including a program that provides unemployment tax relief for small businesses and forgiveness of $75 million in emergency state business loans.

Harford will likely receive some hotel and restaurant relief funds from the state at some point, Glassman said. He estimated the county would receive approximately $1.7 million, but anticipated that money would not be available to distribute until late February or early March.

In his statement, the governor promised a larger economic and stimulus relief package relief package once the General Assembly returns to work for the 2021 session in mid-January.

Aegis reporter David Anderson and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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