February 19, 2021
On Monday afternoon, the $1.2 billion RELIEF Act and MGA’s Recovery Now package was signed into law, providing targeted stimulus and tax relief for over 422,000 eligible Marylanders, including low-income families, small businesses, and unemployed Marylanders in adjudication purgatory. The RELIEF Act was passed nearly unanimously in both the Senate and the House of Delegates, demonstrating what a competent, effective government that puts outcomes ahead of politics looks like. 

The Maryland General Assembly moved so quickly because we know Marylanders urgently need support, and 98% of all relief payments are expected to be processed and in eligible Marylanders’ bank accounts starting today. Today, the Senate also passed legislation that will extend EITC eligibility to all Maryland taxpayers, including individuals who file using individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITIN). If you have questions about eligibility or status of payments, please check the Comptroller’s website here.

I am extraordinarily proud of the hard work of legislators to efficiently pass this crucial relief for vulnerable Marylanders and small businesses. Though this is only the first step, we are continuing to work on longer-term policies that will address the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senate's COVID-19 Policy Package
The fiscal relief in the RELIEF Act is crucial, but we know that broader policies need to be implemented to combat the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure Maryland is in the best possible place to rebuild as the vaccine is widely administered and life begins going back to normal. In practice, this means addressing both the pandemic’s impacts on Marylanders in this moment and its long-term effects. 

On Wednesday, I joined Senators Rosapepe, King, Beidle, and Augustine to announce a package of legislation addressing some of the major short- and long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. These proposals are focused on:

  • Protecting public health;
  • Protecting jobs and income;
  • Preparing for future health crises; and 
  • Assessing progress.

As we said during Wednesday’s press conference, it is abundantly clear that if we had stronger policies in place prior to the pandemic, we would have been able to mitigate the impacts and recover faster. These proposals are meant to address not only the current COVID-19 pandemic, but also anticipate impacts of public health crises that may arise in our future.
Veto Override and Legislation Highlights
Last Friday, the Maryland General Assembly passed two historic pieces of legislation: the Blueprint for Maryland's Future and the Digital Ad Tax. Although those bills rightfully took up many of the headlines, I want to take a moment to highlight some of the other critical veto overrides that took place last week, as well as other legislation that passed the Senate.

Last week, the Maryland General Assembly overrode the Governor’s vetoes on key bills to:
  • Lower the cost of prescription drugs for Marylanders;
  • Close the long gun loophole and implement universal background checks regardless of the length of a gun’s barrel;
  • Create a seamless system for identifying mental health and substance use resources; and 
  • Reform Maryland’s criminal justice system to create equity and opportunity by establishing a women's pre-release center, expanding expungement for low level offenses, and removing marijuana possession from judicial case searches. 

The Senate also unanimously passed the Walter Lomax Act, to establish a statewide system to compensate people who have been wrongly convicted and imprisoned. Each of these bills is fundamentally focused on improving the lives of all Marylanders and creating a fairer, safer, and more just society.
Vaccine Updates in Maryland
My office continues receiving calls every day from constituents who are struggling to access COVID-19 vaccination appointments and requesting the creation of a centralized waiting list for those who are eligible. The issues of accessibility and equity are fundamental to why I started the Senate Vaccine Oversight Workgroup to monitor distribution and administration efforts in the State.

When we met last Monday, Acting Secretary Schrader affirmed that Marylanders should sign up for multiple vaccination sites’ waiting lists and rejected the idea of a single, one-stop sign-up for vaccinations. Though I am glad to hear that the Department of Health has since announced their pilot for a centralized call system, we must continue to make vaccination appointments more accessible, especially for Marylanders who lack broadband access or have low digital fluency. 

Mass vaccination sites at the Six Flags America and the Baltimore Convention Center have launched, and the M&T Bank Stadium location is set to open next Thursday, Feb. 25. While these sites have been able to vaccinate about 3,000 people per day, inequities persist in vaccination rates by race and in vaccine distribution by jurisdiction. It is imperative for the Department of Health to collect and publicize data on vaccine distribution by jurisdiction and site location that is disaggregated by race, location, and other factors. This is one intentional step towards transparency that can be taken to rebuild trust and address vaccine concerns in communities of color.
University of Maryland Recognized for Excellence
Thanks in part to MPower legislation I was proud to sponsor with the late Senate President Emeritus Miller, the University of Maryland is now ranked in the top 20 institutions in the National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) ranking, the highest ever for the University. Prior to being able to combine reporting for research funding based on increased collaboration, the University of Maryland, College Park had been ranked #47 and University of Maryland, Baltimore had been ranked #55. 

This ranking recognizes the world-class research that has been happening collaboratively between the University of Maryland College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore for the past decade through the MPower program, producing remarkable research in the areas of COVID-19 and pandemics, quantum computing, and neuroscience, just to name a few. I am proud of MPower and the partnership that has developed between the University of Maryland’s two campuses, which continues to encourage so much innovation.
Esparanza Education Fund Scholarship Opportunity
The Esperanza Education Fund is awarding scholarships of between $5000 and $20,000 to students in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia planning to attend public community colleges, colleges, and universities. In addition to the scholarship, the Esperanza Education Fund also provides students with mentors to help them navigate college, internships, and careers, as well as facilitates community-building within the cohort of scholars. To be eligible, applicants must have been born outside the United States or have two parents born outside the U.S. Students are eligible for the scholarship regardless of ethnicity, national origin, or immigration status. For more information, please see the online flyer here and to apply online, please visit this page. Applications are due April 1.
More News
On Tuesday, I joined CNBC’s Squawk Alley to talk about Maryland’s new tax on digital ads for large companies that use Marylanders' private data. Maryland may be the first, but certainly won't be the last state to pass similar efforts. Already, we are seeing states like North Dakota, West Virginia, and New York move to pass legislation to ensure these corporations begin contributing to the civic infrastructure that allowed them to grow so successfully in the first place.

Maryland Matters published a moving, vivid piece about Congressman Jamie Raskin, who served as the lead impeachment manager during the recent trial of former President Trump and is also a former Maryland State Senator. Rep. Raskin continues to make Maryland proud and I have the utmost gratitude for his leadership. I was awed with his articulate defense of democracy, even as his family grieves the loss of their beloved son Tommy. 

On Monday, Baltimore City will lift the one-hour time limit on restaurant dining. Additionally, instead of placing caps of gatherings at no more than 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, the City will place cap gatherings at a percentage of a space’s total capacity, with indoor gatherings, including indoor dining, limited to 25% of capacity and outdoor dining limited to 50% capacity.

Mayor Brandon Scott released his transition report, an 85-page document that is the result of an inclusive process involving more than 250 Baltimoreans. The report focuses on restoring trust in city government, improving public safety and implementing a comprehensive strategy to end gun violence, and making Baltimore a more equitable city for all of its residents. I look forward to working with Mayor Scott to build a better Baltimore for all. 

As part of a $630 million deal for Alden Global Capital to acquire Tribune Publishing, the nonprofit Sunlight for All Institute will acquire The Baltimore Sun, the Capital Gazette papers in Annapolis, and several other Baltimore-area weeklies and magazines. This sale will return the State’s largest newspaper to Maryland hands, in a move many are lauding as beneficial to supporting local, high-quality, transparent journalism. 

Lydia Chang, head of NiHao restaurant in Canton, spoke about celebrating the Lunar New Year during the pandemic and the recent surge in anti-Asian hate crimes. During a time when Lunar New Year is normally marked with family celebrations and wishes of health and prosperity, I stand with the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in denouncing these hate crimes and am committed to advancing racial equity for all Marylanders. 

If you haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to check out The Baltimore Sun’s series of photographs highlighting paintings on salt boxes created by local artists, including Baltimore-based Juliet Ames.
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.