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Cumberland Times News: Comptroller praises new city COVID-19 relief program

CUMBERLAND — Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot praised Cumberland officials Wednesday for their decision to create a small business COVID-19 relief fund.

“Hats off to Cumberland, they are really doing something special with this relief fund which is sorely needed,” said Franchot.

Cumberland Mayor Ray Morriss and the City Council agreed Tuesday to create a $106,000 fund to help small business owners who have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

Franchot participated in a phone interview with the Cumberland Times-News on Wednesday afternoon.

“I really appreciate the efforts by Cumberland to put some money aside for eligible businesses,” said Franchot. “I think that it is great. The relief fund is tremendous because it will go to the right businesses that really need it.”

The Times-News spoke to Franchot on a range of topics. Franchot, a Democrat and candidate for governor in 2022, was asked about an issue that developed in the last couple of days. Len Foxwell, the comptroller’s chief of staff, has been under fire from Republicans for remarks on his personal Facebook page concerning an NPR story about right-wing groups calling on their militias to defy Idaho’s stay-at-home orders. The remarks, since deleted, said the groups should be put in a warehouse called, “America MAGA Platinum Palace.” The diatribe ending with, “Get them in, bar the door, and let Darwin work his magic.”

Franchot was asked if he will acquiesce to demands by Republican officials to fire Foxwell.

“I will not fire Len Foxwell,” said Franchot. “He has been and continues to be a great public servant for Maryland. I’m not a big fan of social media and I don’t use it. I do believe in treating everyone with respect. But Mr. Foxwell, will I fire him? No way. He has done a lot for Maryland and has been dedicated to the people of this state.”

On the topic of federal small business relief programs, Franchot was critical about who was receiving the aid.

“The federal relief program is good as long as it doesn’t go to big businesses that have lots of reserves and lots of ability to ride through this pandemic shutdown,” he said. “As long as they’re excluded and the money actually goes to small businesses, such as the ones that are going to be applying to the Cumberland COVID-19 small business relief fund, that is fine. That it would go to Ruth’s Chris Steak House with 5,000 employees like $20 million of the federal program did ... that was ridiculous and outrageous.

“I’ve written to the head of the Small Business Administration in Washington (D.C.), saying this second tranche of small business relief funds, you need to do it better than you did the first one. We need to make sure big businesses don’t get to the head of the line because they are priority clients of the big banks.”

Franchot was asked about Gov. Larry Hogan’s performance during the crisis.

“I have a lot of confidence and trust in Gov. Hogan to handle the situation. Once we get the clear signal, we can start opening up the economy again. I suggest we start with small businesses. I’m talking five or 10 employees. Let them get out in front of their competitors for three or four weeks. We can monitor the health impacts better in small businesses better then big ones. We can give these Main Street stores an opportunity who have been hammered in this crisis.

“All of our attention should be focused on the 175,000 small businesses in Maryland. We will lose a lot of them anyway. Many have already laid off employees, some have already decided to close permanently. That is a tragedy as far as I’m concerned. But let’s try to save the rest of them for the next month or so they can have a chance until the all clear signal is given.

“Amazon will take care of itself; they operate all over the country. The small businesses are our friends and neighbors in our community.”

Franchot asked people to join the #keepthelightson campaign.

“If you send my office a video of you doing a take-out service or purchasing a gift card, text it to me with your address and I will send you a bumper sticker that says keep the lights on,” he said. “That is what we are trying to do until we get the all clear signal from Gov. Hogan.”

Franchot was asked what people want to hear during these difficult times.

“Straight talk, that is what the American people want,” said Franchot. “Don’t sugar coat things. Tell us what the situation is and we will roll up our sleeves and get the job done. The political posturing going on around the pandemic is disconcerting to me. Gov. Hogan has done a very commendable job. I’m a Democrat and he is Republican. But he is popular and has high stature because he is telling the truth. He is doing his best to protect their health and reopen the economy and not have to shut it down again.

“I think he stands in stark contrast to Washington and what is coming out of there. I don’t think people trust what is coming out of the White House. I found it commendable what Gov. Hogan has done. He has gotten up and said this is the way it is.”

Franchot was asked for his views on Hogan obtaining 500,000 COVID-19 test kits from South Korea. Hogan said President Donald Trump told governors to find tests on their own for their states.

“Gov. Hogan (got the tests) but then got criticized by the president for it and told he didn’t have knowledge. No thank you, Gov. Hogan has a lot of knowledge about the state of Maryland. Hogan is doing a terrific job.”

Franchot said he was disappointed that Trump was sounding the praises of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment.

“Studies have come out saying that it doesn’t work; it is a dud and it is toxic,” said Franchot. “The stuff coming out of the White House is not trustworthy. How can you expect people to believe the important things when things like that are thrown in their face?”

Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.

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