Marylanders may be hoping to put the pandemic in the past, but many frontline and essential workers are still risking their health and safety — or recovering — from COVID-19. The pandemic starkly revealed the sacrifices frontline workers make every day.
In March, thanks to the Biden-Harris administration’s American Rescue Plan, Gov. Larry Hogan was able to submit a $74.1 million supplemental budget intended to recognize the hard work and sacrifices of Maryland’s public employees throughout the pandemic.
This budget was approved by the Maryland General Assembly because of the urgency needed to support our frontline workers. Instead of these funds being used to recognize those workers, Gov. Hogan’s agencies are denying frontline classifications a pay differential on a technicality.
The state’s Department of Budget and Management has determined a list of eligible classifications with a set of criteria for receiving the pay. But Maryland Department of Health Secretary Dennis Schrader is excluding dietary and maintenance workers across the state.
Many of these workers are among the lowest paid in the state system and despite risking exposure to COVID-19 management has chosen to exclude these workers. To add insult to injury, many dietary departments have been hit hard by the pandemic. As congregate care facilities, many staff members face a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and additionally risk exposing their friends and families.
In response, at Spring Grove Hospital Center in Catonsville staff in the dietary department recently held a rally and march to urge management to reverse their decision. Workers described working through outbreaks of COVID-19 which eventually infected 19 staffers. How can these workers be left out of a pay differential for COVID-19 despite getting COVID from their workplace?
Gov. Hogan’s administration continues to take every opportunity to undercut our vital public services by underfunding and under-resourcing our frontline employees. Our public services are key to all Marylanders recovering from the pandemic.
Maryland Department of Health facilities have been hard hit by the pandemic, with recent reports highlighting the shortage of beds in public and private psychiatric treatment facilities. Across the state’s five psychiatric institutions only 1,026 beds are staffed, leaving over 600 beds vacant despite significant growing need throughout the pandemic.
And now, after lifting the COVID-19 emergency order July 1, Gov. Hogan has reinstated the emergency order effective July 12.
Rather than rewarding these workers who reported throughout the pandemic with funding provided by the federal government, Gov. Hogan’s administration is turning their back on them.
Every worker plays a critical role in creating a therapeutic environment, and it is critical that we continue to fund Maryland’s vital public services so they can help our communities recover.
— DEL. KIRILL REZNIK
The writer, a Democrat, is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates representing Montgomery County’s District 39. He is chairman of the Health and Social Services Subcommittee, a member of the Appropriations Committee, and House chairman of the Joint Committee on Behavioral Health and Opioid Use Disorders.