A recap of this week’s top-five news items and resources from the intersection of business and government.
1. Maryland judge allows early mail-vote counting to avoid result delays
A court ruling last Friday will allow Maryland election officials to begin counting mail-in ballots before Election Day. The ruling comes after a shift in voting trends has led to a higher volume of mail-in ballots which is directly at odds with Maryland’s law prohibiting tabulation until two days after the general election. Canvassing more than 340,000 mail-in ballots during the primary resulted in nearly a month-long delay, and an even higher volume of mail-in ballots is expected in the upcoming general election. The Maryland State Board of Elections asked the court for this emergency remedy to deliver timely results and meet local, state and federal certification deadlines. In a statement, the board said it was pleased by the court’s decision.
“This ruling provides election officials with additional time to canvass and tabulate these ballots to ensure that all critical election-related deadlines established by law are met,” the statement said.
2. Maryland Black Caucus will have new leadership with resignations of Dels. Barnes, Brooks
Two of the leaders of the Legislative Black Caucus (LBC) of Maryland, Delegate Darryl Barnes (chair) and Delegate Benjamin Brooks (treasurer), submitted letters to their caucus colleagues on Monday, stating they will resign from their leadership posts in December. The caucus will have to fill the two leadership positions before the 2023 General Assembly session convenes on Jan. 11.
“I feel like the queen of England. With some [caucus members] I am the only chairman that they’ve ever known,” Barnes said in an interview Tuesday. “With the new incoming freshmen class and the new governor, I think it’s time for some new leadership, some new innovative ways to do things and I just think from a strategic standpoint, the time is right for me.”
Brooks, who is heavily favored to win a state Senate seat in November, said he will resign as treasurer after six years on Dec. 31 “so that the new chairwoman can formulate her team unencumbered.” In an email to caucus members this week, the LBC 1st vice chair, Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins, paid tribute to both Barnes and Brooks and thanked them for giving enough notice for a smooth transition.
3. The federal programs awards billions to small businesses. The Senate just voted to extend them.
The Senate recently passed legislation extending federal programs that are set to expire on Sept. 30, investing billions of dollars in small businesses for another three years. Under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, federal agencies must set aside a small percentage of their research and development spending for small businesses and startups to help encourage and develop new technology and products. The federal government awards about $2.4 billion annually through these programs and the SBIR & STTR Reauthorization Act of 2022, which now goes to the House, would extend those programs through Sept. 30, 2025.
4. SBA Administrator Guzman announces $7.2M in PRIME grants to help emerging micro-entrepreneurs gain access to capital
Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman, head of the U.S. Small Business Administration, recently announced a $7.2M grant award to 38 organizations under the Program for Investment in Micro-Entrepreneurs (PRIME), a 30% increase from last year’s allocated $5,500,000 in funding. The PRIME award will support specific nonprofit organizations as they help low-income entrepreneurs get financing to establish and expand their small businesses or provide capacity-building training for organizations that supply capital to underserved small businesses.
“Our SBA PRIME grants provide critical support for nonprofit organizations that are delivering needed technical assistance and training to America’s small businesses so they can continue to power our nation’s strong economic recovery and transition to strong, stable growth,” said SBA Administrator Guzman. “This year, the SBA focused our PRIME grant selection process on our nonprofit partners who can best bring federal resources to life, especially in the regions and communities where they are needed most. I look forward to working with these organizations as they help us connect America’s entrepreneurs with the capital they need to start, grow and build resilient businesses.”
5. Consumers gaining confidence as gas prices keep falling
On Tuesday, the Conference Board said that its consumer confidence index grew for the second month in a row to 108 in September from 103.6 in August, as gas prices continue to fall. The back-to-back monthly increases follow three straight monthly declines as American households were severely impacted by rising prices, particularly at the gas pump. Lynn Franco, the Conference Board’s senior director of economic indicators, said that more people reported they expected to buy cars or big appliances in the near future, but fewer said they intend to buy a house anytime soon, as rising interest rates have significantly increased monthly mortgage payments.
“Looking ahead, the improvement in confidence may bode well for consumer spending in the final months of 2022, but inflation and interest-rate hikes remain strong headwinds to growth in the short term,” said Franco.
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