January 29, 2021
COVID-19 continues to drastically impact our lives in innumerable ways and Marylanders need relief now. Headed into the 2021 Legislative Session, the Maryland Senate and entire General Assembly knew that in this moment, stakes haven’t been higher and urgent action is needed now. The news about the Johnson and Johnson and Novavax (a Maryland company!) vaccines is encouraging, but Marylanders need a bridge to get them through the next few months as distribution and administration ramp up.

That’s why Senate leaders and I announced the Maryland Senate’s Recovery Now Amendment, a $520 million plan to provide immediate support to 192,000 of our State’s most vulnerable residents and 19,300 small businesses and organizations not captured by the Governor’s proposal. Governor Hogan’s proposed RELIEF Act is a good starting point, and the Recovery Now Amendment provides additional targeted relief. 

The Recovery Now Amendment includes millions of dollars for:
  • supporting food banks and volunteer fire departments; 
  • providing grants for businesses, restaurants, and nonprofits; 
  • erasing housing debt for 5,000 families; 
  • providing $1,000 per person for tens of thousands of Marylanders stuck in limbo in the unemployment insurance system; 
  • funding summer school or tutoring for 25,000 students; and
  • establishing “wellmobiles” to administer doses of the COVID-19 vaccine as efficiently as possible.

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee has already unanimously approved the RELIEF Act with the Recovery Now Amendment included and we hope to pass it through the full Senate chamber next week. For more details, I encourage you to watch Senate leaders highlighting major portions of the Amendment. As I said in my remarks, I believe that 2021 can truly be the year of rebuilding and recovery.
More Centralized Vaccination Efforts
On Monday, Maryland moved into Phase 1C of COVID-19 vaccine distribution, expanding eligibility to adults 65 and older and to some essential workers. Over 2 million Marylanders are now eligible for vaccines, but there is a huge bottleneck being created with demand far outstripping supply. CDC data shows that Maryland has given first shots of the vaccine to 5.6% of our population and fully vaccinated 0.8%, ranking us 35th and 47th in the country, respectively.

The Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup met on Monday to seek additional information from the Maryland Department of Health. We spoke to Secretary Schrader at length about the need for a more centralized model for vaccine administration similar to West Virginia’s approach, who is leading the nation in efficiency. I was glad to see Governor Hogan’s announcement on the next day moving Maryland to a more centralized administration model with a number of State-run mass vaccination sites announced. Those sites will hopefully come online over the next month and include M&T Bank Stadium, the Baltimore Convention Center, and the Six Flags America in Prince George’s County.

I still remain deeply concerned about preliminary data showing racial disparities in our State’s vaccine administration with Black and Latinx Marylanders receiving disproportionately low rates of the vaccine. The Vaccine Oversight Workgroup will continue meeting every Monday afternoon at 4pm throughout Session and we are committed to working with the Maryland Department of Health to ensure a more efficient, effective, and equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. You can watch the workgroup meetings through the link on the Maryland General Assembly website.
Cautiously Positive COVID-19 Trends
After an extremely challenging last few months of spiking COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths after Thanksgiving and Christmas travel, the Maryland and the United States seem to be turning a corner. New cases in the U.S. have fallen 35% over the past three weeks and  Maryland health officials reported the lowest number of new COVID-19 cases since November 12th. I am hopeful that improvements in Maryland’s vaccine distribution will continue to drive these positive trends. 

At the same time, we need to remain committed to public health measures as new, more transmissible variants of COVID-19 have already been identified in the U.S. with the potential to bring about another surge in cases. Continuing to be vigilant about mask-wearing, social distancing, and handwashing will help prevent an uptick in the spread of the virus and minimize strain on our hospitals and health care system
Reforming the Maryland Environmental Service
Since August, the Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight has been investigating the six-figure payout that Roy McGrath, former director of the Maryland Environmental Service (MES), received when he voluntarily left the MES to serve as Governor Hogan’s chief of staff. After numerous committee meetings during which Mr. McGrath and other current and former MES staff repeatedly declined to provide legislators with information, it is abundantly clear that MES is in dire need of reform so that the agency can truly serve its purpose of protecting Maryland’s environment with integrity and transparency.

Senator Cory McCray is sponsoring Senate Bill 2, the Maryland Environmental Service Reform Act of 2021, which would make much-needed changes to the agency, including prohibiting the type of severance payout for executives that Mr. McGrath benefited from; shrinking the board of directors to a seven-member board; requiring ethics, diversity, and harassment training for board members; and requiring the board to set policies on expenses. Senate Bill 2 was heard yesterday in the Budget and Taxation Committee, and I look forward to supporting it on the Senate Floor.
Apply for YouthWorks 2021!
I am thrilled that YouthWorks, Baltimore City’s summer jobs program for young people, has opened online registration for the summer of 2021. The 2021 registration process will be conducted entirely online and is open through March 19, 2021. YouthWorks 2021 is scheduled to operate a largely virtual program from June 28 - August 6. 

YouthWorkers will work four hours a day, five days a week and will be paid $11.75/hour. City residents ages 14-21 can visit youthworks.oedworks.com to register as a new or returning prospective YouthWorks participant, and employers interested in supporting the program or becoming a worksite are encouraged to visit this website for more information.

YouthWorks continues to be a vital opportunity for our young people in Baltimore City to work over the summer and gain critical work experience. I am grateful for our City’s organizations and businesses that partner with the government to support our youth. During the pandemic, programs like YouthWorks are more important than ever to provide opportunity.
More News
Last Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci joined a virtual roundtable with Baltimore faith-based leaders and COVID-19 vaccine research volunteers. Dr. Fauci acknowledged the mistrust of some Black and Latinx Americans in healthcare institutions, due to long-standing medical systemic racism. He implored Baltimore’s faith leaders to help spread awareness of and faith in the vaccination campaign, and I am thankful for the many church leaders in our City who continue to do so

President Biden has signed several executive orders this week demonstrating an early emphasis on equity including ending Justice Department contracts with private prisons, condemning the waves of racism and discrimination against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and increasing the government’s enforcement housing discrimination. I am encouraged by these early actions and look forward to supporting those efforts at the State level. 

President Biden’s administration is also taking steps to resume efforts to put Harriet Tubman on the front of new $20 bills. This plan was laid out in 2016 by President Obama, but was tabled by the Trump administration. Our currency should reflect the rich history of our country, and honoring the incredible life and work of abolitionist Harriet Tubman will do just that.

Sen. Sarah Elfreth is sponsoring Senate Bill 66 to address the digital divide, by establishing the Office of Digital Inclusion in the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to oversee a plan to ensure that Marylanders have sufficient access. Digital connectivity has become even more essential since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and bridging the digital divide is yet another issue of equity that must be urgently addressed.

The Baltimore City Council passed a bill capping fees on third-party food delivery apps like Grubhub, DoorDash, Uber Eats and Postmates at 15% of the total cost of an order. Typically, such apps take a 30% cut. This cap will provide much needed support to our local restaurants, many of whom have experienced influxes of take out orders through these apps.
If there is anything we can do to help, please do not hesitate to contact my office via email, bill.ferguson@senate.state.md.us, or by phone, 410-841-3600.