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Baltimore Approves $1 Million in Wage Assistance for Workers Impacted by Key Bridge Collapse

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By Emily Opilo
The Baltimore Sun

(The Baltimore Sun) — Baltimore’s spending board approved a $1 million transfer of funds to the city’s civic fund Wednesday to be used to assist workers impacted by the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. online news

The money, which was approved unanimously by the board, will be paid out to employers who have city residents on their payroll whose jobs have been affected by the collapse.

The Key Bridge fell into the Patapsco River last week after it was struck by a massive cargo ship. Salvage efforts have since been underway to clear the waterway, which is blocking the Port of Baltimore. Six construction workers were killed in the collapse and the bodies of four have yet to be recovered.

Mayor Brandon Scott said Wednesday the subsidies will be similar to those offered during the coronavirus pandemic by the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. The office will administer the money along with the Baltimore Civic Fund, he said.

“We know the road ahead for everyone looks extremely difficult,” Scott said, noting he met with members of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 333 earlier this week. “I’ve told those workers and the businesses the same thing: We’re going to be here and we want to help manage the fallout in every way that we can.”

Companies will be eligible for an initial $7,500 per employee with a maximum of three employees — $22,500 per business. The Mayor’s Office of Employment Development estimated the money will be enough to assist 130 workers on an initial basis.

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Maryland officials have said about 8,000 workers have jobs that are directly tied to the port. Baltimore’s program will be available only to city residents.

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Scott said the money, which was transferred from the city’s general fund by the board, was just an initial allocation and acknowledged much more will likely be needed. He said it’s possible that the funds may be reimbursed to the city by the federal government, but that has not yet been confirmed, he said. All elected members of the Board of Estimates are Democrats.

Also Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs was approved by the Board of Estimates to solicit money to assist the families of the victims of the bridge collapse. Baltimore code requires city employees or offices to get permission to fundraise.

Catalina Rodriguez Lima, director of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, said nearly $500,000 has already been raised by the office, which took over fundraising efforts from the Latino Racial Justice Circle. The group initially started a GoFundMe page that raised more than $98,000 within 48 hours of the collapse.

Rodriguez Lima said the most immediate requests from families have been assistance with rent, mortgage and utility payments. In the coming days, families have said they will need financial help with funeral costs and, for some, the expense of transporting their loved ones back to their native countries.

The funds can also be used for the costs of child care, medications, legal or immigration fees, Rodriguez said. A fundraising goal has not been set, she said.

The U.S. Small Business Administration has begun offering loans to help merchants impacted by the collapse. Asked if businesses could be conflicted out of using the wage support program if they also participate in the SBA loan program, city officials said Wednesday they believe businesses could receive both.

MacKenzie Garvin, director of the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, said the city has alerted the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Commerce about the city offering.

“At this time, we don’t anticipate that there should be any challenges because this is going towards an individual’s wage,” she said. “The goal is to keep them from separating from their employment and to keep them from going onto [unemployment] benefits.”

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