Opinion: A Story of Competency in a Crisis
I want to tell a story that I don’t think is being told; it’s about competency in government. A story about how to be bold with a vision and sharp with its execution. A story about how Comptroller Peter Franchot and his talented, diverse team designed and executed a bold plan to provide emergency financial relief to thousands of Marylanders that went off without a hitch.
I want to tell this story because so many have lost faith in government’s ability to meet our needs.
In Maryland alone, we’ve seen a blundered vaccine rollout, the acquisition of South Korean COVID tests that did not work, and an unemployment assistance program that collapsed during the pandemic when it was most needed.
These failures hurt our communities, and lead to alienation from the political process when Marylanders see it come up short time and again.
But not all of government is poorly run. There are moments when we still see what a competent government is capable of. In Maryland, the comptroller’s push for COVID aid from the state government and successful distribution of RELIEF Act payments is one such moment.
Peter Franchot pushed hard to get state government to offer direct payments to families and small businesses who are fighting tooth and nail to hold on during this pandemic. He recognized Maryland had over $1 billion in its Rainy Day Fund that was designed to be used exactly for a moment like this, and that direct support was the most impactful policy response given the urgency of the moment.
While many leaders were silent, Franchot organized a grass-roots effort to successfully push for action.
While the governor did not follow the design of Franchot’s suggestion – the comptroller wanted a larger amount of relief for Maryland families, and using the Rainy Day Fund wouldn’t have affected the state’s revenue like the mechanism the governor chose – a Relief Act was belatedly introduced to the General Assembly.
Here too, Franchot took the lead: On Feb. 2, he wrote an op-ed explaining that tax-paying immigrants and Earned Income Tax Credit eligible filers who did not apply for the credit would be left out of the legislation as drafted. He stood with advocates like CASA who fought to ensure hardworking Marylanders received their fair share of relief. And ultimately, they did.
When it came time to distribute the Relief Act payments, Peter Franchot showed his leadership extends beyond big ideas and advocacy.
Within four days after the bill was signed into law, 98% of stimulus payments to eligible Marylanders — representing more than 420,000 payments — were processed. Over 17,000 calls and more than 5,000 emails were made by Marylanders to inquire about this relief support, and those callers had an average wait time of under one minute. This did not happen by happenstance.
Peter Franchot and his team worked straight through the night and weekends to plan the implementation of legislation that had yet to even pass. They made vital and dynamic decisions, like devising a new system to deliver electronic payments that avoided the six-month delays and almost $200 in fees that many who received relief from the federal CARES Act experienced.
Our state is experiencing an unprecedented challenge — and that challenge will continue as families and small businesses seek to rebuild both from the loss of revenue, accumulated debt and trauma of enduring this pandemic.
Our challenge has been exacerbated by government coming up short when we need it the most. Yet some, like Peter Franchot, are meeting the moment with bold action and inspiring execution. That story deserves to be told.
— HENRY CALLEGARY
The writer is president of the Central Baltimore County Democratic Club and a member of the Baltimore County Planning Board.