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Scott commits $55 million in ARPA funds to workforce development, economic recovery fund

Mayor Brandon Scott speaks at a Tuesday news conference, where he announced $55 million in economic relief funding.
Emily Sullivan/WYPR
Mayor Brandon Scott speaks at a Tuesday news conference, where he announced $55 million in economic relief funding.

Mayor Brandon Scott announced Tuesday he’ll put $55 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding toward economic initiatives. The Mayor’s Office of Employment Development will receive $30 million to fund workforce development programs, while $25 million will go to creating a recovery fund for ailing small businesses, nonprofits and artists.

The announcement marks Scott’s third significant ARPA announcement. The federal relief package gives Baltimore $641 million to spend on pandemic recovery efforts as Scott sees fit. He’s given $80 million to the Health Department and $50 million toward violence prevention efforts; another $110 million was set aside in case of a budget deficit.

Scott described Tuesday’s round of funding, announced at the Youth Opportunity Eastside Center, a way to get unemployed Baltimoreans back to work while offering a badly needed lifeline to small businesses that have floundered amid the pandemic’s financial uncertainty.

“These projects will improve chances of economic successes for those who were systematically disadvantaged even before COVID-19 showed up on our doorstep, and we all know that they were also disproportionately impacted by COVID,” Scott said.

The Mayor’s Office of Employment Development (MOED) will receive $30 million to fund four workforce development programs: Hire Up, Train Up and an expansion of YouthWorks, as well as workforce support for participants.

Hire Up will connect at least 220 low-income residents with $15 per hour, 6-month positions at city and quasi-government agencies.

Train Up is to connect nearly 1,000 residents to occupational skills training programs that lead to industry-recognized credentials. The trainings are to specifically help residents enter fields including biotechnology, business services, healthcare, and information technology. The program will cost $8.9 million.

Another $8.4 million will go toward YouthWorks, which funds summer jobs for those between 14 and 21 at private, nonprofit, and city and state government employers throughout Baltimore. The money will pay for jobs for 4,000 youth over two summers and create the YouthWorks’ first-ever year-round program, to be called YouthWorks Academy.

Another $2.9 million will fund career navigation programming for those enrolled in Hire Up, Train Up and Youthworks, including behavioral health, legal services, adult education and financial empowerment counseling. This sum will also go toward wage subsidies for small, minority- and women-owned businesses “that hire residents impacted by the pandemic,” said Scott.

MOED director Jason Perkins-Cohen called the programs the largest investment in workforce training in city history.

“We're all about jobs, but they don't always lead to careers and ours need to. Our residents want and deserve a pathway to careers that provide for their families,” he said. “We're investing in adults and we're investing in our youth with occupational training to provide career pathways to living wages.”

Scott described the $25 million economic relief fund as a way to provide immediate support to businesses and communities hit hardest by the pandemic.

It will be split across several groups of residents, with city quasi-agencies administering different grants.

Baltimore Development Corporation will receive $11.7 million to support small business relief. Scott said BDC has a goal of giving 70% of ARPA grants to these businesses.

Colin Tarbert, BDC’s president and CEO, said that city businesses owned by people of color had more challenges accessing federal and state pandemic aid and lacked resources to pivot business operations to accommodate fluctuating restrictions.

BDC launched the Small Business Technical Assistance Network to help those businesses navigate assistance programs, connecting them to $40 million in financial aid. The organization will use ARPA funding to continue the program and provide direct aid.

Tarbert said that small businesses also identified many other gaps, including access to or knowledge of e-commerce, legal assistance and financial accounting assistance — all realms that were crucial to surviving the pandemic.

The ARPA funding also will “enable us to support small businesses in those professional services who will be matched up with small businesses in need of those services,” Tarbert said.

Baltimore Civic Fund, which is a fiscal sponsor for many city nonprofits, will receive $8.3 million to distribute to more than 300 of these organizations. BCF organized a non-profit relief fund, which distributed more than $7 million to 160 nonprofits.

BCF president HyeSook Chung said nonprofits stepped up to assist city residents despite radical operational changes and challenges wrought by the pandemic.

“They provided the most critical services: housing, food, shelter, mental health services. They adapted. Yet we did not follow,” Chung said. “They are a part of the critical system of the economic recovery.”

Family League of Baltimore will receive $2 million to support Baltimore's childcare industry; it will administer grant relief for an estimated 160 child care providers, prioritizing those that did not receive financial aid last year. CEO Demaune Millard said that city childcare businesses, which have a thin overhead in normal times, have had to grapple with widely varying attendances as offices went remote or shuttered altogether.

He recalled speaking with a childcare provider on the phone last year. She was in tears, explaining that keeping her business open would mean going into debt or having to declare bankruptcy.

“I said, ‘Well, you know, obviously it's a very difficult decision that you have to make, but I hear the kids in the background.’ And she said, ‘the need in the community is still there,’ ” Millard said. “I said, ‘who are you serving?’ She said, ‘their parents are essential workers.’ ”

Visit Baltimore will receive $2.5 million to aid the hospitality industry, specifically hotels. Al Hutchinson, President and CEO of the organization, said that pre-pandemic, 27 million people visited Baltimore every year, leading to $10 million in tourism taxes and 86,000 jobs.

After March 2020, those numbers were decimated, he said, noting that city hospitality industry workers are predominantly Black or brown.

“It's a mom who lives right here in East Baltimore, raising her family to work in one of these hotels in Baltimore City,” he said. “It's a dad who lives in West Baltimore trying to educate his kids, sending them to school, that works in a hotel in Baltimore City. It’s a young kid who goes to college at Coppin or Morgan State, working part time at a hotel. A lot of these folks were impacted when COVID hit.”

Hutchinson said Visit Baltimore will spend the money on bringing hospitality workers back to the job and revving up the economic engine that is tourism.

Baltimore's Office of Promotion and Arts, also called BOPA, will receive half a million dollars to support local artists and creators, both in direct grants and project funding. The pandemic shuttered galleries, theatres, music venues and festivals and public events — shuttering both the creative expression and income of the city’s artistic community.

BOPA CEO Donna Drew Sawyer said the money will provide $3,500 grants to individual artists and creators who have demonstratively been impacted the pandemic.

“And while $3,500 doesn't sound like a lot, it is a lifeline for many artists in our city,” she said. “I am committed to using these economic recovery funds paired with the energy and expertise that powered our grassroots emergency relief fund at the onset of the pandemic.”

Information about grant applications can be found at arp.baltimorecity.gov.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.