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$1.1B COVID-19 Relief Package Heads To Governor's Desk

Rachel Baye

The General Assembly has sent a roughly $1.1 billion COVID-19 relief package to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk after passing it unanimously in the Senate and with the support of all but one member in the House of Delegates. Hogan has said he will sign it.


In its final form, the bill includes up to $500 in stimulus payments for individuals who claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit on their 2019 tax filings. It also increases the amount of that tax credit for the next three years. 


The Senate had added $520 million in programs to Hogan’s original bill. These included grants to restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues, agricultural businesses and nonprofits; money for people struggling to pay rent or utility bills; grants for people waiting on pending unemployment benefits; and money to help schools cover the costs of returning to in-person instruction.


However, the House reduced some of these programs to compensate for the cost of increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit. The House also increased the amount of money available to offset debts residents owe on late electric bills.


After the House passed its version, the Senate moved quickly and without debate to agree to the House’s amendments. There was general agreement in both chambers and among members of both parties that getting economic relief to Maryland residents will be one of the most important things lawmakers do during their 90-day session.


“It's not a perfect bill — compromises are never perfect. It maybe spends a little bit more than I would like, and there's some programs in there — the arts or other things — that I'm not sure that are exactly the best to be on here,” said Senate Minority Whip Michael Hough. “But nonetheless, I think this is a good bill.”


Hogan praised the General Assembly for passing the legislation.


“I want to thank the House and Senate for acting with the urgency that the crisis demands,” Hogan said in a Tweet. “I look forward to signing this legislation so that we can get much-needed relief out the door, and into the pockets of those who desperately need it.”


For part of the day Friday, it appeared that the bill would be mired in a political fight over whether to allow immigrants to qualify for relief under the bill.


The House Ways and Means Committee amended the bill late Thursday to extend the Earned Income Tax Credit to residents who file their taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN, which would include immigrants both with and without legal residency in the United States. 


The amendment was a sticking point for Republicans.


“I'm really disappointed that this poison pill had to be put in to cause division and strife amongst the members of the Maryland General Assembly,” House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga said of the amendment. 


However, when the House returned for a late-afternoon session, House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke withdrew the amendment. 


Instead, Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones announced plans for separate legislation, to be introduced next week, making ITIN holders eligible for the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. 


“Maryland will have the highest Earned Income Tax Credit in the nation and every taxpaying Marylander deserves to access this benefit,” the Democratic leaders wrote in a statement. “No Marylander deserves to wonder where their next meal will come from, how to buy their child’s diapers, or how to pay for life saving medicine — especially when they go to work every single day.”


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