House Withdraws Proposal For Broader Stimulus Checks, General Assembly Passes Billion-Dollar RELIEF Act

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.'s proposed RELIEF Act.

After the House of Delegates nixed a last-minute provision that would’ve included broader stimulus checks for Maryland taxpayers, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) plans to sign a billion-dollar relief effort into law Monday.

Hogan’s RELIEF Act, as currently amended and approved by both the House and Senate on Friday, would include sweeping tax relief for small businesses and Marylanders, and direct stimulus checks to certain low-income taxpayers. The proposal was overwhelmingly passed by the legislature Friday after a day of contentious debate over whether to include taxpayers without Social Security numbers, including undocumented immigrants, in the bill’s direct stimulus.

Hogan, who has repeatedly called on the legislature to quickly pass his relief proposal, lauded lawmakers’ fast action in a Friday statement.

“The RELIEF Act will deliver more than $1 billion in tax relief and economic stimulus for struggling families and small businesses,” Hogan wrote. “It will help Marylanders barely hanging on right now as we work to bring this global pandemic to an end. While Washington gears up for yet another partisan fight, here in Maryland we are once again setting an example of what effective and bipartisan leadership looks like.”

A spokesperson for Hogan confirmed that the governor plans to sign the emergency relief package into law on Monday.

The relief package includes direct stimulus payments – $500 for families and $300 for individuals – to low-income taxpayers who filed for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in 2019. But because the EITC requires a Social Security number, advocates have warned that thousands of Maryland taxpayers would be excluded from those stimulus payments.

House Democrats on Thursday added people who file taxes with individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITIN) who meet the EITC income guidelines to the RELIEF Act’s stimulus checks.

ITIN filers also include undocumented immigrants and “some people who are lawfully present in the U.S., such as certain survivors of domestic violence, Cuban and Haitian entrants, student visa–holders, and certain spouses and children of individuals with employment visas,” according to the National Immigration Law Center.

But the proposal to send ITIN filers stimulus checks was withdrawn Friday after Republican objections and questions over its viability threatened to hold up the bill. Instead, lawmakers plan to pass separate legislation next week to provide assistance to ITIN filers.

More than 86,000 ITIN filers paid more than $100 million in state and local taxes last year, according to Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), and many of those taxpayers meet the EITC income qualifications.

House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedkte (D-Montgomery County) said the removal of ITIN filers from the relief proposal was a compromise. He promised to quickly pass an “equivalent program” that would provide relief for those taxpayers as early as next week.

“Every Maryland taxpayer in poverty deserves help,” Luedtke said.

In a joint statement, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) promised to pass legislation to “include every Maryland taxpayer in the Earned Income Tax Credit” next week.

“No Marylander deserves to wonder where their next meal will come from, how to buy their child’s diapers, or how to pay for life saving medicine – especially when they go to work every single day,” the statement reads.

Ferguson and Jones wrote that, combined with the newly passed RELIEF Act, the proposal will be “the best anti-poverty legislation to have passed the General Assembly in years.”

That relief won’t include immediate stimulus payments to ITIN filers, a spokesperson for Ferguson said. It’ll extend EITC benefits to ITIN filers for the 2020, 2021 and 2022 tax years, Ferguson said at a Friday evening media briefing. He noted that Hogan currently holds “all the cards” in determining how to distribute relief funding.

In a Friday statement, CASA Research and Policy Analyst Cathryn Paul demanded the fast passage of that legislation, including a veto override if necessary.

“Today, leaders of the Maryland House and Senate issued a joint statement committing to immediately passing EITC reform expanding coverage to include ITIN filers,” Paul said. “While EITC reform is certainly needed, it is unimaginable that an anti-immigrant Governor like Larry Hogan will not veto the bill when it reaches his desk. Only a veto-proof majority and rapid veto override vote will provide the critical relief needed by immigrant tax filers.”

(Hogan’s wife, First Lady Yumi Hogan, immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea.)

After the House approved of the relief proposal Friday, the bill returned to the Senate floor just before 5 p.m. on Friday and was passed by a unanimous vote, 45-0.

“We have seen livelihoods destroyed and we have seen lives lost. And this is a clear message to Marylanders everywhere … relief is on its way. Not next year, not in the next month, but now. That is why we put partisanship aside and put public service first,” Sen. Craig Zucker (D-Montgomery) said.

Senate Minority Whip Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick) commended the chamber for working through a compromise quickly

“I think the Senate really showed leadership here and did a good thing. We’re going to get direct aid to people, relief,” Hough said. “It’s not a perfect bill, compromises are never perfect … but nonetheless I think this is a good bill overall.

In a Friday press release, leaders of the Maryland Legislative Latino Caucus said Maryland would join California in Colorado if it expands EITC benefits to ITIN taxpayers. According to that release, Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) said that the previous proposal to include ITIN filers in the RELIEF Act “would not be viable.”

“Now, more than ever, we must ensure there are no barriers to help those in need,” Latino Caucus Vice Chair Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s) said in the release. “Immigrants have been working to keep our communities afloat during this time, so we absolutely need to step up for them.”

Franchot, in a statement after the vote, said he still believes the RELIEF Act “falls considerably short,” but was improved by legislative amendments.

“I was disappointed that tax-paying immigrants were excluded from receiving direct stimulus payments,” Franchot said. “They are our friends and neighbors who are also struggling to feed their families and pay their bills. The taxes they pay provide financial relief to others, but they are being cast aside without immediate assistance. This is economic injustice, plain and simple.”

His office will work with the General Assembly to “provide EITC benefits to all eligible Marylanders ― regardless of whether they file their taxes with a Social Security Number or an ITIN ― as soon as possible.”

Reporter Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.

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Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include additional information about stimulus payments.