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    MOCO to send cash to businesses, hospitals coping with coronavirus (WBJ)

    Montgomery County is offering up $20 million in grants for businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak, and sending another $10 million to local hospitals as they deal with a surge in patients.

    The County Council unanimously passed a series of measures designed to respond to the pandemic Tuesday, following D.C.’s lead in opting to offer cash assistance for companies struggling to stay afloat.

    Small businesses with 100 employees or fewer will now be able to apply to earn checks of up to $75,000 from the county’s new “Public Health Emergency Grant Program.” A quarter of the funding pool will be reserved for restaurants and retailers, a change advanced by Councilman Tom Hucker, D-Silver Spring, to reach businesses that have been forced to shut down after Gov. Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home order.

    The money is designed to help companies afford expenses such as employee salaries and debt payments. Businesses will also be able to apply for microgrants of up to $2,500 to purchase teleworking equipment.

    "Do I believe this is going to save every small business in Montgomery County? No," said Council President Sidney Katz, D-Rockville. "I believe we’re going to have to have this conversation again and maybe again after that for other monies. But I believe this is the right thing to do and the right way to do it."

    Similarly, the county’s six hospitals will be able to access $10 million to pay for new equipment and hire staff to cope with the crisis, though the council did not detail how the funds would be divided among the facilities. The county currently has the most diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in the state, with 388 as of Tuesday morning.

    Lawmakers also agreed to spend $250,000 to rent hotel rooms for medical staffers coping with the pandemic, working with the county’s Conventions and Visitors Bureau to secure the space.

    The council pulled the $30 million-plus in funding from its undesignated reserves, allowing it to start sending money to businesses right away, rather than waiting for the new year’s budget process. The debate over that new spending plan is set to be a fierce one, as County Executive Marc Elrich’s budget proposal has already earned poor reviews from most council members.

    The new realities of the pandemic’s economic impacts have local governments across the region reconsidering tax hikes and other ambitious spending plans, and Montgomery County is no exception. Still, many officials have opted to spend what they can to get cash to businesses right away – the D.C. Council created a $25 million grant program for companies, while Hogan is offering up a total of $175 million to Maryland businesses in a mix of grants and loans.

    "Local governments need to fill in the gaps that the state and the feds leave out," said Councilman Craig Rice, D-Damascus. "This isn’t perfect, but it’s a good first step for us."

    Others have tried to make a difference by deferring tax payments, or offering new flexibility for restaurants and bars to prepare food and alcohol for pickup and delivery.

    County Councilman Will Jawando, D-At Large, took another step in that direction Tuesday by introducing a bill to temporarily suspend the county’s tax on plastic bags used for carryout food. The council will take up the measure at its April 14 meeting.

    By   – Staff Reporter, Washington Business Journal