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Franchot: Maryland 'deplorably inadequate' at distributing pandemic aid

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Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, pictured at a June 2021 rally advocating for pandemic unemployment benefits, says the state needs to do a better job of distributing pandemic relief funds. Credit: Rachel Baye/WYPR

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot offered harsh criticism of the state’s distribution of federal American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds during a meeting Tuesday about pandemic relief spending.

Most of the more than $11 billion in ARPA funds the state either has received or is expecting has been allocated at the state level, via an agreement between Gov. Larry Hogan and the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly in March.

However, Maryland’s 23 counties plus Baltimore City received $2.3 billion they are responsible for allocating.

Franchot said the decision to have individual jurisdictions disburse those funds, rather than centralize the process at the state level, was a “cop out.”

The comments came after the news that Maryland’s nonprofits have struggled to access pandemic relief funds.

“We are deplorably inadequate at Maryland's level, the state level, the county level, the municipal level, in having the infrastructure to deliver this relief to the people who need it, who are actually doing the work that we are trying to have them do,” Franchot said. “A few less press conferences bragging about how everything is just great would be, I think, a recommendation I would make … to the local authorities and the state authorities, and a little more humility that they're just not getting the job done.”

Heather Iliff, president and CEO of Maryland Nonprofits, an umbrella group, expressed frustration that Baltimore City is the only jurisdiction to begin releasing aid to nonprofits, months after the funds were first announced.

“We actually spent $5,000 of our own money to hire a consultant to write a guide for local governments on how to give grants to nonprofits through ARPA,” Iliff said. “They're all completely confused.”

She said many of the smaller nonprofits outside of Baltimore City have used up their last federal Payroll Protection Program funds and are looking for help to maintain their operations. The gap, Iliff said, is disproportionately affecting communities of color and nonprofits run by people of color.

Meanwhile, some types of nonprofits that are not classified by the IRS as charities — such as chambers of commerce, unions and professional associations — were “inexplicably” left out of federal pandemic relief programs, she said.

“Anything that the state can do to help meet the needs of those businesses — you know, it's true that they're not, ‘charitable nonprofits,’ but they are businesses,” Iliff said. “So if you can be a Chuck E. Cheese and get the money, why can't you be a chamber of commerce and get the money, right?”

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