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$1B Pandemic Relief Package Passes Initial Senate Vote

Rachel Baye

The state Senate gave initial approval Wednesday to a COVID-19 relief package expected to cost nearly $1.3 billion initially, plus more in future years. Rachel Baye and Nathan Sterner talk about what’s in the bill.

This bill is a hybrid of proposals from Gov. Larry Hogan and the Senate. Give us some highlights of what’s in there.


Among the governor’s contributions to the package are stimulus payments to taxpayers who claim the Earned Income Tax Credit. Individuals who claimed it in last year’s tax filing get $300 and another $150 if they claim it when they file their 2020 taxes. Married couples get $500 for claiming it last year and another $250 for claiming it this year.


The governor’s proposal also gives sales tax breaks to businesses and allows the state to forgive some loans to small businesses. It exempts unemployment benefits and certain pandemic relief payments from state income taxes.


Those are all in the governor’s proposal. What did the Senate add to this proposal?


The Senate added $520 million toward a long list of programs. There is money for food banks, restaurants, entertainment venues, hotels, nonprofits, and agricultural businesses. There is relief for people who are struggling to pay utility bills or rent.


Schools get $50 million for summer school and tutoring programs, and local governments get another $50 million toward making school buildings safe for in-person learning. 


Those are just a few examples of what is in this bill.


On the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat, raised concerns about a provision that gives $1,000 to people whose unemployment benefits are still pending.


“We have lots and lots of constituents whose unemployment claims have been pending,” Kagan said, “and we are pounding trying to get them their claims, so how can we be sure that all of our constituents are going to be eligible for this?”


Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Guy Guzzone said the state Department of Labor will be producing the lists of people with pending claims once a month for the rest of this fiscal year.


What kind of support does this plan have?


The bill received unanimous support in committee and has bipartisan support in the chamber. The Senate is expected to pass it when it comes up for a final vote, which could happen as early as Friday. Then it will move onto the House. 


Comptroller Peter Franchot has some concerns about the package, in particular about the stimulus payments.


“My understanding is that it doesn't include 81,000 families of taxpaying Maryland workers who have paid us more than $100 million in taxes but lack the requisite social security number or something that allows them to be included in this,” he said in an interview Wednesday morning.


WIthout a social security number, taxpayers can’t claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, even if their income is low enough. Undocumented immigrants are among those who do not qualify.


Franchot also said the proposed stimulus payments are too small. He wants to issue $2,000 payments to low-income families with at least one child. 


He said he doesn’t need legislation to do it either. Unlike the legislative package, which will require checks to go out in the mail, he could issue payments immediately, directly to taxpayers’ bank accounts. All he needs is the governor, House speaker and Senate president to sign off. 


Are we likely to see Franchot’s plan on the table?


There has not been any interest from lawmakers so far.


Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
WYPR's Morning Edition news anchor Ashley Sterner serves up the latest Maryland news and weather every weekday morning, delightfully interspersed with the occasional snarky comment.
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