BRIAN WITTE 

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- Maryland Gov. Wes Moore announced on Friday the start of a program to help Port of Baltimore businesses retain employees in the aftermath of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse.

The $12.5 million program aims to prevent layoffs while recovery work continues. The program was created by executive order and authorized by emergency legislation the governor signed on Tuesday.

"We must do everything in our power to support the 8,000 Port workers whose jobs have been directly affected by the collapse of the Key Bridge — and the thousands more who have been touched by this crisis," Moore, a Democrat, said in a news release.

The program is being run by the state's labor department.

"The Worker Retention Program will keep Port businesses in operation and workers able to earn income and support their families as the U.S. Army Corps and others work to get the shipping channels reopened," said Maryland Secretary of Labor Portia Wu.

Under the program, entities eligible for up to $200,000 in grants include businesses that employ up to 500 workers, unions, trade associations, and organizations that have had operations hindered or completely halted by the port slowdown.

Up to $7,500 can be spent per worker on wages or other support.

Businesses that receive funding under the program must demonstrate an effort to the fullest extent to avoid layoffs and maintain workforce hours, rates of pay, and benefits that were in effect before the port's reduced operations.

Allowable expenses include supportive services for workers, such as subsidizing child care and transportation costs as well as payroll expenses as part of participation in the Work Sharing Unemployment Insurance Program.

The governor's office said other relief programs that were authorized by the legislation signed into law this week will start on April 22.

One of them provides grants of up to $100,000 to eligible businesses that have had operations impacted or shipments disrupted at the port. To be eligible, businesses must demonstrate economic and financial injury through a reduction in business revenue and activity, or increased costs to business operations.

The Department of Commerce: Port of Baltimore Emergency Business Assistance Program will begin accepting applications.

Another program will make a total of $15 million in loans and grants available to businesses that have been affected by a loss of revenue or increased costs, under the Neighborhood BusinessWorks program administered by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

The Small Business Grants Program will have $5 million to offer grants up to $50,000 to small businesses within a 5-mile radius of the Key Bridge, and the Business Loan Program will have $10 million to offer loans up to $500,000 to businesses impacted by the Key Bridge collapse or reduction in Port activity statewide.

The container ship Dali was leaving Baltimore, laden with cargo and headed for Sri Lanka, when it struck one of the bridge's supporting columns last month, causing the span to collapse into the Patapsco River. Six members of a roadwork crew were killed.