As Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) prepares to unveil his latest COVID-19 relief package Monday and with the annual General Assembly session set to begin Wednesday, several groups and political leaders are pressuring officials to make robust state funding available to those who have suffered the most during the pandemic.
On Sunday, the Maryland United for COVID Relief NOW Coalition, which has been organized by state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) and Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker (D) held a virtual rally to call on Hogan to use state rainy day funds to assist with pandemic relief.
About 30 federal, state and local elected officials, labor leaders, members of the clergy, businesspeople and political advocates made the case during the hour-long event for extra state funding, arguing that relief from the federal government will be slow to arrive and isn’t adequate.
Franchot said he wants the state to draw money from the rainy day fund for $2,000 stimulus checks to qualifying Marylanders and aid for local businesses.
“There is a light, there’s a better day ahead for Maryland but could we please help out our friends and neighbors right now?” he said. The comptroller said the state has enough money in the rainy day to use for relief and keep a solid cushion on hand.
“If a COVID-19 global pandemic is not a rainy day, I don’t know what is,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). “We are in a torrential downpour and worse,” he said.
The coalition is hoping to send 10,000 online petition signatures to Hogan urging him to make more rainy day funds available for pandemic relief. As of Sunday evening, 6,779 people had signed.
Meanwhile, the groups Progressive Maryland and the Working Families Party are deploying a billboard truck to key locations across the state in the two days leading up to session, and they plan to send the truck to Annapolis on Wednesday.
The truck tour will promote the group’s so-called Working People’s COVID Recovery Agenda for Maryland, which aligns with the agenda advanced by the national Working Families Party.
On Monday and Tuesday, the truck will be driving into select legislative districts to target lawmakers who are expected to have sway over COVID recovery legislation in Annapolis: District 8 in Baltimore County, targeting Sen. Katherine A. Klausmaier (D) and Del. Carl Jackson (D); District 10 in Baltimore County, targeting House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D), Sen. Delores B. Kelley (D), Del. Benjamin Brooks (D); District 14 in Montgomery County, targeting Sen. Craig J. Zucker (D), Del. Anne R. Kaiser (D), Del. Eric G. Luedtke (D), and Del. Pamela Queen (D); District 25 in Prince George’s County, targeting Sen. Melony G. Griffith (D), Del.
Dereck E. Davis (D), and Del. Darryl Barnes (D); District 26 in Prince George’s County, targeting Sen. Obie Patterson (D), Del. Veronica Turner (D), Del. Kris Valderrama (D), and Del. Jay Walker (D); District 30 in Anne Arundel County, targeting Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D); District 32 in Anne Arundel County, targeting Sen. Pamela G. Beidle (D) and Del. Mike Rogers (D), and District 46 in Baltimore City, targeting Senate President Bill Ferguson (D).
The truck will display a billboard portraying photos of Marylanders who have been impacted by the current economic and public health crisis. Organizers will speak with community members and collect stories on how COVID-19 has impacted them.
On Wednesday, the first day of the legislative session, the truck will be in Annapolis to showcase the video of stories the groups have collected.
In a statement, Progressive Maryland and Maryland Working Families said the truck tour “will demonstrate to the Maryland General Assembly (MGA) that Maryland’s families, communities, and essential workers cannot wait any longer for relief.”
During the summer and fall, the groups and other progressive advocates vocally called on General Assembly leaders to convene a special session to tackle the economic crises wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The House speaker and Senate president turned up at a mock legislative session the groups organized on a soccer field in the fall, and told advocates they felt there was too much uncertainty over the federal political scene and financial picture to hold a session right away.
“With legislators convening for session on the 13th, the time has come for legislators to step up and protect their constituents,” Progressive Maryland and the Working Families Party said in a statement.
The groups are seeking swift passage of the following legislation:
- The Essential Workers Protection Act to help workers impacted by the pandemic and provide hazard pay for certain frontline workers;
- The Medical Debt Protection Act, to protect patients struggling with medical debt.
- The Health Equity Resources Act to increase patient protection and restore certain health care services.
- A moratorium on evictions and foreclosures to protect those who cannot afford housing.
- The Secure Maryland Wage Act to support higher wages for essential workers.
While Hogan and his budget writers and legislative appropriators have stopped short of saying what kind of additional relief funds they’ll seek during this legislative session, some Democrats have suggested that if President-elect Joe Biden succeeds in passing an additional round of stimulus funding in the weeks ahead, it will broaden the spending options for state and local officials in Maryland.
Valerie Bonk of Maryland Matters news partner WTOP News contributed to this report.
(Disclosure: The daughter of Maryland Matters Editor Josh Kurtz works for Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker.)