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The Star Democrat: Stop the bleeding

The state of Maryland ended its most recent fiscal year with a $585.8 million “unassigned balance.” The money is separate from the state’s Rainy Day Fund and other pools of cash at Annapolis’ disposal.

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot wants the $585.8 million to go toward helping small businesses.

Restaurants, shops and other small businesses on the Eastern Shore and throughout Maryland continue to struggle and face serious challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus and its economic impacts still threaten scores of jobs and small businesses. “We just need to stop the bleeding,” Franchot said in an interview with The Star Democrat.

We strongly agree with Franchot’s effort to help small businesses.

Local businesses and their employees are still very much on the front lines of COVID-19 battle. While pandemic numbers in Maryland have improved, some consumers are still pulling back on spending and are hesitant to venture out. Some of that is based on fear of infection and some is based on the economy, lost jobs and cuts in pay and hours. Social distancing rules also still limit how many customers restaurants and other businesses can serve.

The economic pain is still very real.

The anxiety of COVID-19 is still very real for workers and families unsure about their paychecks and how they are going pay their rent and other bills.

We do not need more political platitudes and posturing on the pandemic from either side of the aisle.

We need action.

We like Franchot’s idea of getting money directly to small businesses. Too often, so-called investment and stimulus packages do not make it to Main Street. They certainly make it to Wall Street, the clients of K Street lobbying firms and bloated government bureaucracies.

The federal Paycheck Protection Program was not perfect, and we will see how many jobs it ended up saving.

But at first glance, the program did extend a critical lifeline to a number of small businesses and their workers throughout the Shore and the state.

Francot’s idea is for quick financial aid for small businesses with local economic developers and other leaders helping identify businesses that need help.

While we need another stimulus program from Washington to help with the continued impacts of COVID, that will likely not happen until after the presidential election. Unfortunately, politics trumps (pardon the pun) needs on the ground.

But Maryland has a chance for its own, new business assistance effort. Helping small businesses saves jobs as well as tax revenue.

Maryland faces some major budget deficits when the full fiscal impacts of COVID-19 are felt.

Local businesses and their employees and the money they spend and the tax revenue they generate are going to be key to navigating upcoming budgets.

An innovative and effective small business program can also help showcase Maryland to other entrepreneurs, innovators, creative workers and companies. The state has been working hard to improve Maryland’s business climate and image as it competes with Virginia and other states for jobs and investments.

We always need to attract more innovators and job creators to the state and to the Eastern Shore. We should remember that every company — including Amazon, Apple and Tesla — started out as a small business, as a start-up.

Franchot’s program can help save jobs and local businesses now. It can also help foster and bring the next great ideas and the next great companies to Maryland.

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