COVID-19 | WYPR

COVID-19

Rachel Baye / WYPR

The pool of money that pays for Maryland unemployment benefits, the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, is running out of money. As a result, Maryland businesses could be forced to pay more into the fund. 

 

State Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson told a group of lawmakers and community leaders on Thursday that, after paying a “record number of applicants,” the fund has about $615 million left — a little more than the benefits paid out since March 9.

Rachel Baye / WYPR


On Election Day this November, Marylanders will be able to cast ballots at their regular polling places, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday in a letter to the State Board of Elections. However, voters who want to vote by mail will have to submit ballot applications.

 

The plan is a departure from the June primary, ahead of which all registered voters were mailed ballots. Instead, the state will send all registered voters applications for mail-in ballots.

Anne Ditmeyer / Flickr Creative Commons

"There’s an extraordinary need out there, by any measure. Within the first 24 hours of launching the program on Wednesday we had 1700 applications either in progress or already submitted.” Baltimore Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman describes a need that reflects the desperation of renters.

Rachel Baye / WYPR

  

The Maryland Board of Public Works cut $413 million from the state budget during its meeting Wednesday. Gov. Larry Hogan — one of the board’s three members — said the cuts are necessary because the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on state revenues. It's part of his plan to cut $1.45 billion from the budget overall. 

WYPR’s Rachel Baye joins Nathan Sterner to discuss what the budget cuts mean.

Rachel Baye / WYPR

Maryland’s Board of Public Works plans to vote Wednesday on more than $672 million in budget cuts. The proposed cuts would affect nearly every part of state government, from schools to healthcare to public safety.

 

Gov. Larry Hogan called for the cuts to deal with a massive drop in revenues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Public health experts have said to expect a “second wave” of COVID-19 cases as soon as the late summer or early fall. When the new surge arrives, Maryland officials may not force businesses to close again.

 

Speaking with a subcommittee of the state Senate Budget and Taxation Committee via Zoom on Thursday, Health Secretary Robert Neall said his department is preparing for a new surge in COVID-19 cases. He said this time, there will be a new challenge.

Rachel Baye / WYPR


More than half a million Maryland residents have filed for unemployment insurance since March as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the state is still working through a backlog of about 34,000 of those applicants whose claims have not been processed.

 

During a Zoom meeting Wednesday, Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson told state lawmakers that the state has so far sent $2.7 billion in unemployment benefits to more than 400,000 residents. But she said Labor Department staff members are still reviewing applications received in May and the first half of June.

Rachel Baye / WYPR

Gov. Larry Hogan announced on May 20 that the state would do “universal testing” for COVID-19 at juvenile detention facilities. But the vast majority of both the youth residents and the staff at these facilities have yet to be tested, and the state Department of Juvenile Services doesn’t expect to finish the first round of tests until the end of July.

Joe Kane / WYPR

  

Joe Kane grew up in East Baltimore with his cousins, aunts and uncles close by. It was the way his grandmother, Phyllis Waters, wanted it.

He says she loved her family – and her Seventh Day Adventist church.

"When I say ‘all her time’ – I mean all her time was in church," he says. "She’d stay there all day."

Waters loved to sing. Kane says her favorite hymn was “When We All Get to Heaven.”

Courtesy Brian Frosh

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and the Maryland Access to Justice Commission, an advocacy group, have formed a task force aimed at creating legislation they say would address a “crisis of justice.”

Rachel Baye / WYPR

More businesses can open and more activities will be allowed to resume, as Gov. Larry Hogan moves the state further into his recovery plan.

 

Beginning this Friday at 5 p.m., indoor dining will be allowed at restaurants. The following Friday, June 19, gyms, dance studios, malls, arcades, bowling alleys, casinos and social clubs are among the types of business that will be allowed to open.

Rachel Baye / WYPR

  

The state government employees who process unemployment insurance claims and work in state prisons, juvenile services facilities, hospitals and universities say they lack the resources necessary to do their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. 

 

The workers spoke Tuesday at a virtual meeting of the state House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees.

Rachel Baye / WYPR

  


  When Gov. Larry Hogan’s amended order allowing certain businesses to reopen takes effect Friday at 5 p.m., Baltimore County businesses will be among those allowed to open. 

 

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski plans to repeal all local executive orders keeping businesses closed and restricting activities to prevent the spread of COVID-19, he announced Thursday. Going forward, the county will follow the governor’s lead when it comes to the state’s COVID-19 recovery plan.

Rachel Baye / WYPR

  

  Effective Friday at 5 p.m., some non-essential businesses will be allowed to open as the state enters the second phase of Gov. Larry Hogan’s recovery plan, the governor announced Wednesday. 

 

But state health officials also warned on Wednesday that there will likely be a second wave of COVID-19 cases this fall, and maybe even a third wave and a fourth.

A Disconcerting Election Day

Jun 2, 2020
Mary Rose Madden

Voters faced an election day Tuesday tinged with fears of COVID-19, protests over police misconduct and with questions about mail-in ballots. Some of them never arrived and others went to the wrong addresses.

And even though this was supposed to be primarily a mail-in election, more than 11,000 voters had shown up at the polls shortly after midday, according to state election officials.

An election monitor at Northwood Elementary School in Baltimore said many were lined up at 6 am, an hour before the polls opened.

Rachel Baye / WYPR

In what may be the first-ever primary election held during a pandemic, state elections officials urged as many people as possible to mail in their ballot or drop it at a dropbox, rather than go in-person to the polls. But some Baltimore City voters never got their ballots in the mail.

Katie Kirby/Revolution Event Design & Production via AP

Gov. Larry Hogan said he was concerned after seeing photos of crowds packing the Ocean City boardwalk over Memorial Day Weekend. But on Friday morning, he told NBC’s Today Show that lifting restrictions on outdoor dining, which is allowed beginning Friday at 5 p.m., will improve social distancing.

Howard Co. Library/Creative Commons

Since the start of the pandemic several months ago, many of us have been working from home, ordering our groceries online, and Zooming with friends.  Kids are learning remotely.  It’s the new normal, right? 

If the pandemic has changed the way you do just about everything, consider yourself lucky. What about our neighbors who don’t have a computer or a reliable way to access the internet? They are more cut off than ever, and their children fall behind when teachers are livestreaming lessons and asking kids to upload homework.

Why is it that 40% of Baltimore residents lack broadband access to the internet?  In a city where red-lining in housing has a long history, has red-lining moved from the street to the internet? 

We begin with Dr. John Horrigan.  He’s the author of a new report for the Abell Foundation that describes the impact of Baltimore’s Digital Divide on low-income city residents. Dr. Horrigan is a senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute. 

Then, Chrissie Powell and Andrew Coy join the conversation.  Powell is the Baltimore site director of Byte Back, Inc., a tech-inclusion nonprofit that offers free technical skills classes for adult learners.  Coy is the executive director of the Digital Harbor Foundation, which teaches coding and other computer and tech skills to K-12 students.  They are both leaders of the Baltimore Digital Equity Coalition, which includes about 50 groups that are working together to reduce our city’s Digital Divide. 

The Governor's Office


As Maryland officials raced to meet the state’s urgent need for medical supplies over the last two months, two deals gained national attention:  The governor’s procurement of 500,000 COVID-19 test kits from South Korea and a $12.5-million contract for ventilators and masks from a company started by two Republican fundraisers.

On Wednesday, state lawmakers grilled an official in Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration over whether the tests from South Korea are actually being used. They questioned whether officials have been too quick to approve these deals.

Wikimedia Commons

Retailers, hair salons and barbers in Howard County can open at 50% capacity starting Friday morning, County Executive Calvin Ball announced Tuesday. It marks a slight easing of the county’s current restrictions, which allow stores to offer curbside pickup and delivery and allow hair salons and barbershops to open by appointment in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The new rules also permit religious institutions to hold outdoor services with up to 250 people, so long as they can sit or stand six feet apart from one other. The rules currently in place prohibit any services, indoor or outdoor, larger than 10 people.

Emily Sullivan/WYPR

Stores in Baltimore City are closed. In Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, retail is open for curbside pickup and delivery. In Harford and Carroll counties, customers can actually go inside stores.

When Gov. Larry Hogan replaced his stay-at-home order with a “Safer at Home” advisory and lifted some other statewide restrictions last week, he said what’s considered safe will necessarily vary county by county. He pointed to Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, which together account for more than half of the state’s COVID-19 cases. He left it up to local officials to decide how to move forward into the first phase of his recovery plan. 

 

The result is a patchwork of rules that change as you cross county lines. Some county health officers told state lawmakers on Wednesday that the variation forces them into a defensive position as they explain their choices to confused residents. 

Eli Pousson / Flickr

Black Baltimore residents are evicted nearly three times more often than white residents,  according to a new report by researchers at the University of California Berkeley and the University of Washington.

Rachel Baye / WYPR

Maryland’s job market may not recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic until the end of 2024 or even later, according to the latest analysis presented to the Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates on Thursday.

Rachel Baye

Gov. Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home order will lift Friday at 5 p.m., allowing some businesses to open. But many restrictions will remain in place, and the rules will vary county by county. 

YouTube

Maryland’s unemployment insurance system has been plagued by problems for weeks. For more than nine hours on Tuesday, dozens of residents took turns sharing their experiences navigating the system with members of two state Senate committees.

Residents described spending entire days on hold with state call centers and sending repeated emails, trying to reach a Department of Labor staff member who might be able to help. They said claims are rejected without reason, and benefits that were approved suddenly stop coming.

Rachel Baye / WYPR

Gov. Larry Hogan has vetoed more than three dozen bills the General Assembly passed during this year’s abbreviated session. The rejected bills include a massive school system overhaul; funding for Maryland’s historically black colleges and universities; and a bill closing a background check loophole for long guns.

Nathan Sterner and Rachel Baye talk about some of the vetoes.

Rachel Baye / WYPR

Maryland public schools will be closed for the rest of the school year, State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced Wednesday. At the same time, Gov. Larry Hogan said he is loosening some of the restrictions put in place more than a month ago to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Emily Sullivan/WYPR


 A group of state lawmakers, businesses and religious leaders has filed a lawsuit challenging several of Gov. Larry Hogan’s emergency executive orders, including the one requiring residents only leave their homes for “essential” reasons.

 

The lawsuit argues that the governor overstepped his authority by quarantining healthy people inside their homes alongside the sick and closing non-essential businesses. 

Rachel Baye / WYPR


Angel Lopez lost his job as a mechanic in Baltimore when business slowed due to the coronavirus  pandemic. Then his partner lost her part-time job cleaning houses. 

 

Lopez is undocumented, and his partner’s application for asylum is on hold while the courts are closed. As a result, they don’t qualify for unemployment, federal stimulus money, or Baltimore’s small existing rental assistance program.

During an interview in mid-April, Lopez said he wasn’t sure how he would pay for May’s rent. He said he was considering selling his car.

Baltimore’s next mayor will face inherited challenges--like persistent gun violence and public transit failures--and new obstacles born of the pandemic.

Mary Miller, a former T. Rowe Price executive and top U.S. Treasury official under President Obama, is running for the Democratic nomination to be mayor of Baltimore. She warns the city may lose as many as a quarter of its small businesses because of the pandemic, and proposes a plan of action.

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