ANNAPOLIS — The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that’s currently making its way through Congress could include up to $20 million in direct financial aid to each of the Eastern Shore’s nine counties to continue fighting the pandemic.
U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat who represents Maryland, said the bill — H.R. 1319 — as its written now would allocate between $4 million and $20 million to individual counties on the Shore.
Cecil County likely would receive the greatest amount based on its large population relative to its neighboring counties. Kent County, whose population is the smallest among Shore counties, would likely be funded on the lower end.
Funding for the remaining counties, which include four in the Mid-Shore that have similar population sizes, would land somewhere in the middle.
The money for each Maryland jurisdiction, as outlined in the current bill, is proposed to come from a total $130.5 billion local coronavirus recovery fund. About $65 billion of that would go directly to county governments across the country, $45.6 billion to municipalities and $19.5 billion to the states for distribution to smaller, non entitlement communities.
The funds, once allocated, will have to be used by the counties and municipalities to respond to or mitigate the COVID-19 public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, cover related costs incurred, and replace the counties’ and municipalities’ lost, delayed or decreased revenue.
Van Hollen said during a Zoom video meeting with the Eastern Shore Delegation on Friday that the bill would require federal funds for counties and municipalities to be sent directly from the federal government, as opposed to being sent to and then distributed by their respective state governments.
“One of the lessons I think people learned from the first round (of pandemic relief) is you don’t want all the funds having to filter down through the state of Maryland,” Van Hollen said of the proposed more direct distribution system.
The senator said the bill is being debated among lawmakers and items that are currently in it could change or be omitted as the legislation moves through Congress. “It’s a moving target. Things could change,” he said.
The American Rescue Plan was proposed by President Joe Biden. The plan has a $1.9 trillion price tag, and in addition to state and local government aid, includes $1,400 stimulus checks for individual American citizens making under $75,000.
The bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Republicans opposed to the legislation argue it is bloated with unnecessary spending. They also oppose a $15 per hour minimum wage included in the House bill.
It’s unclear at this point whether the $1,400 direct payments to citizens will survive cuts and amendments to the legislation, as some lawmakers have opposed the idea. It appears lawmakers are not yet nearing a compromise on the checks nor on many other items in the bill.