Maryland’s state government is set to receive a multi-billion dollar boost as part of the latest federal stimulus package – and a broad coalition of unions and community organizations is calling for some of that money to go to essential workers.
The recently enacted American Rescue Plan earmarks roughly $3.87 billion for Maryland’s state government, and provides wide leeway in how state officials can use that funding. Sen Chris Van. Hollen (D-Md.) said at a press conference last week that the money can’t be used to reduce taxes, and that governments will need to use their funding to “meet the burdens of COVID-19.”
Some say state should use a potion of that money to cover hazard pay and paid leave for essential workers: The Protect Maryland Workers Coalition, which includes dozens of unions and political advocacy groups, wrote in a Friday letter to General Assembly leaders that the state to set up an “Essential Workers Fairness Fund” to cover those costs in both the public and private sectors.
Many essential workers have dealt with high COVID-19 risk throughout the pandemic, the letter reads, and some have had to quarantine without paid leave.
“These workers understand they provide essential services and are proud to do their part to keep our economy and community functioning in this difficult time,” the letter reads. “But some employers failed to adequately protect them. Working conditions for many were unsafe, and many workers had to buy their own protective equipment.”
The letter also notes that the General Assembly is currently considering the proposed Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act, which would mandate hazard pay, paid health leave and require more robust health and safety standards for essential workers during emergencies.
“By establishing this new workers’ fund, the legislature will pave the way for this critically important bill to pass,” the letter reads.
The roughly $4 billion the state is set to receive as part of the American Rescue Plan is only one portion of the relief effort’s funding to Maryland. The plan also includes roughly $1.17 billion for county governments and another $1.14 billion for municipal governments with few strings attached.
And that direct funding to governments is in addition to money headed to the state to bolster vaccine distribution, health care, education and a slew of other efforts as part of the $1.9 trillion relief package, according to a release from Van Hollen and Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.)