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Trump throws federal coronavirus relief bill that would benefit Maryland into doubt

The long-awaited federal coronavirus relief bill — paired with an expansive government spending package — contains millions of dollars specifically for initiatives in Maryland, but President Donald Trump threw its fate into question Tuesday night when he blasted the bipartisan package and suggested he may not sign it.

The legislation would give $600 stimulus payments for most Americans, and establish a temporary $300 weekly supplemental jobless benefit, but Trump said he is asking Congress to amend the bill and “increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000, or $4,000 for a couple.”

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Trump complained in a video that he tweeted out Tuesday night that the bill delivered too much money to foreign countries, but not enough to Americans.

“I am also asking Congress to get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill,” the Republican president said.

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The bills contains millions of dollars specifically for initiatives in Maryland, including coronavirus relief, efforts to clean the Chesapeake Bay, and improvements to Baltimore- and Washington-area public transportation.

Earlier Tuesday, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, said during a Tuesday news conference that the relief was “a long time coming.”

“But it does provide critical relief at this moment for our country,” Van Hollen said. “It will get us through these very tough winter months as we continue to fight the pandemic, and try to make sure that our economy can first tread water but then get up and running to full steam.”

All of Maryland’s representatives voted in favor of the bill.

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Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin said he was disappointed that the bill didn’t include direct support for state and local governments, as was the case with the CARES Act passed earlier this year. But overall, he was pleased with the outcome.

“Let let me be clear that this bill is very, very important for state and local governments, and they do very well under this bill,” the Democrat said. “I think we delivered for Maryland.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, expressed similar concerns about the lack of aid for state and local governments, but praised the passage of the relief package overall.

“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,” he said in a 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.”

While the direct stimulus payments and other coronavirus-related relief measures from the federal government will benefit millions of Marylanders, one of the more significant items in the legislation impacts the Chesapeake Bay.

The massive spending bill appropriates $87.5 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program, the regional partnership in charge of bay restoration managed by the EPA. The allocation is $2.5 million higher than last fiscal year, and it was cheered by environmentalists in the state.

The allocation is particularly heartening, environmentalists say, given that the Trump administration had proposed steep cuts for the program, even with a crucial 2025 bay cleanup deadline looming. In his original proposal for the 2021 fiscal year, Trump allotted $7.3 million for the program.

“The Chesapeake Bay Foundation appreciates that a broad, bipartisan majority of Congress again endorsed additional funds for the Chesapeake Bay Program, refusing the Trump administration’s dangerous attempt to dismantle this essential program for the fourth year in a row,” said Jason Rano, the foundation’s federal executive director, in a statement.

It comes close to the amount Congress was authorized to spend through America’s Conservation Enhancement Act, which was passed in October. That bill authorized Congress to give about $90 million to the program, with increases planned for each of the following years.

The spending bill also would fund smaller programs authorized through the conservation act, such as the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Watertrails Program, a National Park Service initiative that aims to increase public access to environments in the bay watershed. That program was given $3 million.

“I’m particularly proud of our successful effort to secure record-level funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program and to include funding for several other beneficial Bay initiatives,” Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes, a Democrat, said in a news release.

The pandemic relief bill includes emergency coronavirus money for many people as well as health departmentss and schools.

It’s estimated that eligible Maryland households will collect up to $2.6 billion in direct stimulus payments.

“It’s going to be a welcome check received by families in Maryland and around the nation,” Van Hollen said. “For a family of four, it’s $2,400. That’s a substantial amount of money.”

The thousands of Maryland families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 would receive funeral assistance payments from the Federal Emergency Management Administration, totaling $41 million.

Maryland is set to get an estimated $385 million for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and mitigation, and another $75 million for vaccine distribution.

The state also would nab $402 million in assistance for renters. The bill extends a moratorium on evictions, which was going to lapse at the end of the year. Estimates show that up to 200,000 Maryland households had been facing the risk of eviction.

State schools also will receive a boost. Maryland’s K-12 schools will receive an estimated $868 million and higher education institutions will get $315 million. It also will get an estimated $56 million for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund — a federal grant program for governors to allocate funds to local education entities.

Ailing public transportation agencies in Maryland also are among those receiving emergency aid.

Baltimore is poised to receive about $76 million in transit funding, and the Washington, D.C.-area transit system is posed to receive some $830 million.

It comes after the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority warned of steep service cuts if more federal aid wasn’t approved. The transit agency proposed ending weekend metro rail service, shortening the metro system’s hours, closing stations and laying off workers.

The Maryland Transit Administration in September stepped back from an earlier proposal to slash bus service in the Baltimore region, but still planned to roll back commuter bus service and MARC train service.

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The newly announced funding will “help get service back to normal and stave off harmful cuts that threaten our local economy,” read a statement from Rep. Anthony Brown’s office. Brown, a Democrat, represents parts of Prince George’s County, which is served by WMATA.

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The spending bill also sets aside more than $9 million for transit in rural Maryland, $149 million for the Maryland State Highway Administration and $22 million for airports in the state.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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