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May 22, 2020

Congressman: Communities need local reopening options, federal aid

Credit: The Garrett County Republican, Joseph Hauger

OAKLAND — Reopening and recovery from COVID-19 should take place in different stages, based upon the number of cases and regional response, U.S. Rep. David Trone said Friday.

“Places like Garrett and Allegany counties have done such a great job on isolating and keeping the disease at a very, very low level,” said Trone, D-Md. “What happens in Garrett should be the same as what happens in Baltimore.”

Trone said he has been communicating with Western Maryland lawmakers, including state Sen. George Edwards and Delegates Wendell Beitzel and Mike McKay, who had been advocating for release from state restrictions during the pandemic.

As of Wednesday, Garrett County had seven confirmed cases and Allegany had 166 out of the state total of 42,323. The statewide death toll has now passed 2,000.

“Health has to come first, but it’s not one-size-fits-all,” Trone said, and steady progress is needed to get back.

Trone spoke before the House’s passage of the federal Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act by a vote of 208-199.

The $3 trillion measure is the largest ever to pass either house in the history of Congress, Trone said, and will serve as the starting point for negotiations toward a final version of the bill.

“It will perhaps have a bit of bipartisan support,” Trone predicted, pointing to efforts to pass the other recent federal relief bills.

Trone said the biggest piece of the House bill is state and local funding — almost $500 billion to states, which is a figure requested by Gov. Larry Hogan in his role in leading the National Governors Association.

Sixty-one local government leaders, including Beitzel, Garrett County Commissioner Paul Edwards and many of the county’s mayors, have signed on in support of the proposal, which would provide $375 billion in funding for municipal and county governments, Trone said.

In its current form, the bill would provide $10.8 million for Garrett County this year and $5.9 million next year, he said.

“It’s a substantial help that Garrett County needs, because your revenues have gone way down and expenses have gone up with COVID. It’s a real double-whammy, and so we need to put together a bipartisan piece of legislation that can support our states and local governments,” he said.

Other portions of the bill include:

Testing: $75 billion for testing, tracing, and isolation measures and $100 billion in support for hospitals.

Unemployment: Extension of unemployment benefits, including $600 weekly unemployment through January, plus another round of direct payments to Americans.

Housing: $175 billion in assistance to renters and homeowners to make monthly rent, mortgage, and utility payments.

“Heroes Fund”: $200 billion in hazard pay for essential front-line health-care workers.

Small Business: Additional funding for SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loans and strengthened PPP for minority and underserved communities.

Nutrition: Expansion in nutrition benefits through SNAP and other programs, and inclusion of the Food and Nutrition Provider Emergency Support Act.

Medical research: $4.75 billion for medical research at National Institutes of Health, including National Institute of Medical Health research on mental health impacts and COVID-19; $1 billion for the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant; $1.5 billion for the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant; and $10 million for the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Broadband: $5 billion for FCC’s E-Rate Program for schools and libraries to provide internet service.

Criminal justice: $200 million to Bureau of Prisons for coronavirus response and $300 million to states for coronavirus response in prisons/jails.