At its last meeting, Hyattsville City Council approved a measure allocating $1 million to spend on pandemic relief programs. Among Prince George’s County’s larger municipalities, it’s the largest aid funds so-far assembled. But the legislation did not say how that money should be spent. Tonight, at it’s April 22, 2020, meeting, Hyattsville City Council tackles that question, and all options are seemingly on the table.
Hyattsville isn’t the first to put its own money into relief programs. Soon after the pandemic was declared, Riverdale Park approved a comprehensive suite of legislation that allocated money and created programs that provide vouchers for the town’s farmers markets and restaurants, and loosened the rules on the city’s commercial grant programs. Mount Rainier has allocated $10,000 to coronavirus community response efforts, a portion of those funds have already gone to purchase a large nefrigerator to store donations of perishable goods in the city police department.
One of the big policy issues for the fund is to whom the money should be allocated: businesses or individuals? Another issue facing Councilors is the question of establishing means testing for the program. For context, Hyattsville brought in $19.7 million in revenue in 2019. Further, $1 million split between roughly 18,210 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey, equals about $55 a person.
“What seems to dominate the information that’s coming out right now is around the health and wellbeing of folks,” said Hyattsville Councilor Erica Spell-Wolf during the April 6 meeting. “It’s difficult for me to think about the economic impact on businesses and things of that nature. I am trying to balance health, wellness, peoples lives, verses a business need.”
“This is really to protect all aspects of our community. If you start at the level of a business, they are one of the economic drivers of the community,” said Councilor Kevin Ward during the April 6 meeting. “Not forsaking the health needs of people in our community, those have, for the most part, a large infrastructure set – they get sick, they call a doctor, they go to the emergency room.”
Mayor Candance Hollingsworth said she favored approaches that provide “direct, necessary support to individuals and businesses” with few barriers to entry and a quick startup time.
“While I want to leave room for out-of-the-box ideas…I know that demonstration projects at this time introduce a level of risk that the effects of which we are not in a position to buffer,” said Hollingsworth in an email. “I would encourage us to direct our resources where there’s the greatest need andutility.”
Councilor Ben Simasek said he had a lot of questions heading into tonight’s meeting. He’d prefer the city establish criteria to address the most urgent needs, such as healthcare, food security and housing, and possibly set aside some part of the fund for longer-term relief. He was unsure what percentage of funds should go directly towards residents versus small businesses.
“I’m not sure what percentage of funds should go directly towards residents in need compared to what should go towards small businesses that employ locals,” said Simasek. “If public funds will be made available to private businesses, I’d prefer they support employee wages.”
City Councilor Danny Schaible said he’d prefer to make the funds available to those who have been least-served by existing federal or state relief programs, noting uncertainties faced by undocumented residents, independent contractors and gig-economy workers.
“A real goal of mine in this is to make sure we are not being too specific with how the relief is tailored and recognize how our Hyattsville residents have specific needs and are able to best decide how to spend this money,” said Schaible.
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