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Politics

Maryland officials tout programs to help Ellicott City flood victims

State officials on Tuesday publicized a variety of existing government programs that can help victims of this weekend's flash flood in Ellicott City, but the total amount of aid available is unclear.

Some money may be tied up in political wrangling.

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As workers continued to clean up and stabilize Ellicott City's historic downtown, which was torn up by the once-in-a-millenia flood that coursed through its heart, state officials were busy identifying tax dollars to help.

Programs already exist to finance demolition, rebuild business facades, replace lost inventory, fix damaged homes and find places for people to live. But a big chunk of the money in those programs is part of an ongoing dispute between Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and the Democrat-controlled General Assembly.

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Legislators have tried to force the governor to spend that money -- and millions more -- on specific projects or nothing. So far, Hogan has not agreed to their plans, but Hogan spokesman Matthew A. Clark said Tuesday all of the programs available to help Ellicott City will be fully funded by the governor.

The programs themselves have less money in them than under previous administrations, said Warren G. Deschenaux, executive director of the Department Legislative Services, which analyzes the budget for lawmakers.

"They're funding them at lower levels than they used to be," he said.

On Tuesday, the Maryland Department of Housing drew attention to what budget analysts said were relatively small-dollar programs that can help replace people's homes with zero-percent, 20-year loans or rehabilitate rental homes for low- and moderate-income people.

Another program grants emergency rental assistance for up to 90 days, but no money is currently budgeted for that program.

Those programs are small enough that they don't get a line-item in Maryland's $42 billion budget.

Businesses can get up to $50,000 in zero-interest loans to repair damage or replace inventory under the Maryland Business Recovery Program. Although there is $5 million budgeted for that program, $3.6 million of it has been "fenced off" by the legislature and requires Hogan's approval to release it.

The Howard County government can apply for two other big programs to clear out damaged buildings and then rebuild along Main Street, but the amount of money available is limited.

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Although the legislature set aside $21.5 million for "strategic demolition," all but $3.5 million of that is designated for a massive demolition project in Baltimore to tear down vacant housing. The balance was to be distributed across the entire state, budget analysts said.

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Hogan officials announced Tuesday they would extend the deadline to apply for those funds in order to consider applications to help Ellicott City.

Another well-funded program identified by the Hogan administration has more than half of its money "fenced off" by lawmakers. The $6 million Community Legacy program is supposed to be used to help rebuild the facades on buildings, among other projects. Every year, counties apply for more money than the state can give out. Projects in downtown Ellicott City have received money from the program before.

A spokesman for the Department of Housing did not respond to a request for comment on how the programs to help Ellicott City will be administered.

On his Facebook page Tuesday afternoon, Hogan said representatives from the housing department and an array of other state agencies will be available every day until Friday and during business days next week to help flood victims identify and access state programs.

The state of emergency Hogan signed over the weekend allows the state to apply for federal disaster relief funds.

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ecox@baltsun.com

twitter.com/ErinatTheSun


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