Maryland senators are tacking an additional $520 million onto Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s (R) billion-dollar COVID-19 relief effort – including grants for businesses and immediate payments for thousands of Marylanders waiting on adjudication for unemployment insurance.
Senate leaders announced their “Maryland Senate Recovery Now Amendment” to be added to Hogan’s proposed RELIEF Act at a Wednesday press conference. The amendment will be paid for through a mix of state reserve funds, including $320 million from the state’s rainy day fund.
Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) called Hogan’s proposal “a great starting point,” but said the Senate’s amendment will provide more targeted relief to families and businesses who’ve been affected by the pandemic.
“This is the immediate relief that Marylanders need,” Ferguson said. “These additions are the targeted support that we know are going to be most important to help Marylanders and small businesses make it through this crisis.”
Sen. Guy J. Guzzone (D-Howard), the chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said the use of reserve funds means the amendment can be paid for without additional cutbacks. He said money from the state’s local income tax reserve fund, and extra budget funds that normally go toward the state’s retirement system, will be used to supplement the amendment.
The proposal includes $44 million in unemployment assistance aimed to help Marylanders who’ve been stuck in what Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) described as “adjudication purgatory” as they await benefits.
Roughly 39,000 people who are awaiting adjudication with suspended unemployment insurance cases would receive emergency grants of $1,000 each if the amendment is enacted. The amendment also includes funding for additional caseworkers to process backlogged unemployment benefits.
The measure includes $125 million in assistance for businesses, including a $40 million emergency grant and loan program that would provide $12,000 in assistance for up to 3,300 to businesses that don’t collect sales tax. Businesses that collect sales tax are eligible for a tax credit under Hogan’s proposal.
Hard-hit businesses like restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues will be eligible for new grants if the amendment is enacted. Businesses will be prioritized if they can “demonstrate need” and haven’t received similar assistance in the past. Rural and agricultural businesses will also be eligible for new grants.
Sen. Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s) said the targeted assistance, along with prioritizing businesses that haven’t received funding in the past, will help the state’s minority-owned businesses.
“We know that many of our state’s minority and disadvantaged businesses haven’t received any aid so far,” Griffith said.
Nonprofits would also receive assistance under the Senate amendment, with $30 million in grants for up to 6,000 nonprofits and $10 million for 680 artists, art districts and arts organizations.
The amendment designates $116 million toward educational assistance, including $50 million for 8 weeks of summer school or tutoring for 25,000 students statewide and another $50 million to help local governments “safely accelerate to in-person education.” Community colleges would receive $15 million for job training, and the Department of Juvenile services would get $1 million for education.
Mental health services would also be bolstered by the amendment. Of $45 million allocated to health assistance under the Senate’s proposal, $20 million is slated to provide “mobile crisis and stand-alone walk-in” crisis services for mental health and substance use disorders. Another $10 million is slated to provide grants and assistance for counties to help with COVID-19 vaccination.
Tenants would also receive assistance from the measure: $25 million would be used to “erase the housing debt of about 5,000 people” or provide 30 days of emergency housing for 5,555 people. Another $3 million would be used for legal assistance for tenants facing eviction.
Ferguson emphasized an “equitable recovery” in unveiling the amendment. About $59 million is designated to help Marylanders in need, including $22 million to restore Temporary Disability Assistance Program (TDAP) benefits for roughly 7,500 people. That money will also be used to provide increased grants for 15,000 people with disabilities.
Guzzone said the number of people receiving benefits from TDAP dropped off last year. The program is aimed to help low-income Marylanders as they await federal disability support, and Guzzone said the drop-off was likely due to people having trouble seeing a doctor to verify their eligibility for the program during the pandemic.
“During the crisis, it’s been difficult sometimes to get in to see docs,” Guzzone said. “We’re guessing that the reason we’ve had such a drop in enrollment is that they haven’t been able to get in.”
The $59 million designated for Marylanders in need also includes $13 million to help fund volunteer firefighters, $10 million for food banks, $9 million to erase the utility debt of more than 10,000 Maryland households, and $8 million in grants for the state’s Developmental Disabilities Administration providers.
The amendment also provides $30 million for the Maryland Transit Administration to cover some of its losses during the pandemic, $25 million to restore highway repair funding and $8 million for shuttle and commuter buses.
Ferguson wants to move the amendment quickly, and expects it could come up for a floor vote next week. Guzzone said the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee will iron out the amendment’s details at a meeting tomorrow.