ANNAPOLIS — Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot wants the state to step up with a new effort to help small businesses on the Eastern Shore and other parts of the state.

Franchot said in an interview with The Star Democrat the state is ending its most recent fiscal year earlier this summer with a $585.8 million ‘unassigned balance’. That is money beyond Maryland’s Rainy Day Fund.

“We were mildly surprised there was a positive fund balance,” Franchot said.

The comptroller wants the money to go to small businesses who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and related closures. Many of those small businesses – including restaurants – are strained and on the brink of closing because of the pandemic.

“With this money we could give a real shot in the arm to the small business community,” said Franchot, a Democrat.

Franchot said he would like the close-out money used to quickly help businesses in Easton and other Maryland cities. “We just need to stop the bleeding,” he said.

Franchot would like to see a new small business assistance program modeled after the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and without bureaucratic red tape. He said the PPP program was surprisingly effective in helping businesses and saving jobs on the Shore and in other regions.

Francot’s plan is to empower local communities to help disperse grants to small businesses in need of help. He’s hoping for improvements on the pandemic front and rebound in consumer spending. “There will be a lot of pent up consumer spending,” he said.

That could help the Shore’s tourism industry. Destinations such as St. Michaels and Easton saw welcomed visits and spending from tourists and locals over the Labor Day weekend. “It was a Labor Day I haven’t seen before. It was a perfect storm,” said St. Michaels Police Chief Anthony Smith during Wednesday’s town meeting.

Franchot said the state still faces some very serious fiscal challenges for upcoming budgets if there is not a new federal stimulus package passed. The Comptroller’s Office estimates Maryland could face a $4 billion shortfall if federal aid does not come. “That could just be catastrophic,” Franchot said.

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