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Senate Democrats Unveil $520M Pandemic Relief Plan

Rachel Baye

Democratic leaders in the state Senate have proposed a $520 million amendment to the governor’s proposed pandemic relief package.

“We agree with the governor, with his Relief Act that he has put forward,” Senate President Bill Ferguson told reporters on Wednesday. “And these additions are the targeted supports that we know are going to be most important to help Marylanders and small businesses make it through this crisis.”


He said the package is designed to fill gaps left by other relief programs, including the governor’s proposed package.

For example, Ferguson pointed to the governor’s proposed sales tax credit for businesses. 


“That is a thoughtful, broad way of approaching it,” Ferguson said. “There are some businesses that don't collect sales tax, and so they have been impacted immediately.”


For those businesses that don’t collect sales tax, the senators propose $40 million in grants and loans. 


The Senate’s plan also includes $26 million for restaurants; $10 million for hotels and other hospitality businesses; $10 million for entertainment venues; $10 million for rural and agricultural business; and $30 million for nonprofits. 


The plan expands eligibility for unemployment benefits with $1,000 for each person with suspended benefits. It also restores temporary disability assistance to people who lost those benefits and increases the amount of those grants.


The senators propose giving $10 million to food banks to help residents with food insecurity.


The proposal makes $9 million available to alleviate debt for residents who have struggled to pay utility bills. 


The plan includes $63 million for transportation programs.


“Because of the reduced use of our highways, reduced use of our transit, the revenue for those critical services has gone down, and the state has cut the budget for the Maryland — for the Transit Administration. They’ve cut money on repairing roads. They’ve cut money for rural and suburban bus services,” said Sen. Jim Rosapepe, a Prince George’s County Democrat. “We’re going to begin to reverse that.”


And the package includes money for education, including $50 million for summer school and tutoring and another $50 million for local governments to spend on the resources necessary to get students back to their classrooms.


The Senate Democrats’ proposal builds on the governor’s plan, which would cost $767 million in the current fiscal year, and another $183 million over the next four years. 


“I'm sure the first question that occurs is how do we pay for an additional $520 million worth of relief and recovery?” said Sen. Guy Guzzone, a Howard County Democrat who chairs the Budget and Taxation Committee. “The answer is that we have a number of funds within state government, and we are in a position over two budget years, ‘21 and ‘22, to cash flow them in different ways.”


Among other things, Guzzone said lawmakers would draw from the Rainy Day fund. More details about funding the proposal are likely to become clear as legislators craft next fiscal year’s budget.


Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom. @RachelBaye
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