July 23, 2021
The last few newsletters, I have remarked about the immense progress we have made as a society since this time a year ago in our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. There can be little doubt the vaccines have fundamentally altered the path of the virus and have kept countless Marylanders from experiencing extreme illness and even death. The statistics released by the Maryland Department of Health in June relating to cases, hospitalizations, and deaths only reinforce the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.
But another pandemic is simmering - a pandemic among the unvaccinated. Numbers of new cases in Maryland have doubled in the last two weeks. The vast majority of new COVID-19 cases and virtually 100% of hospitalizations and deaths are among those who have not gotten the vaccine. The Delta variant, accelerated by mutations as the virus spreads, is more contagious and threatening than its daunting predecessor.
Misinformation about the side effects of the vaccine abounds, and in many cases, outright lies are being spread to discourage inoculation. We must all fight back against these mistruths and encourage friends and family members to get the vaccine. We owe each other, especially those who would like to receive the vaccine but cannot because of underlying medical conditions. We can change the course of this pandemic once again and protect our neighbors, but only if each of us continues doing our part.
For information on where to get a vaccine, please click here
Federal Child Tax Credit Hits Bank Accounts
This week, the first installment of the federal Child Tax Credit went out to over one million Maryland families. A key component of President Biden’s coronavirus relief package, the one-year program provides monthly payments of $300 for each child 5 and younger, and $250 for those children between 5 and 17.
This critical program will lift-up Maryland’s children while providing a boost to our State’s economy by helping parents pay for childcare, health care, and housing. The payments will result in the largest one-year decrease in child poverty in the history of the United States and I hope they will be authorized well-past this next year.
Broadband Expansion in Maryland Begins
As the pandemic forced students out of the classroom and many of us to work from home, it became abundantly clear that access to up-to-date devices and reliable and fast internet profoundly affects educational and employment outcomes.
This past Session, I spearheaded an effort to ensure that $300 million in federal funds would be allocated to bridging Maryland’s digital divide and the General Assembly passed a bill to establish the Office of Statewide Broadband. The Digital Connectivity Act will expand broadband infrastructure and address digital literacy to ensure “every resident of the State is supported by high-quality broadband Internet service at an affordable price.” This leading-edge effort will:
  • Invest $146 million in broadband infrastructure;
  • Provide a monthly subsidy to pay for Internet service; and
  • Ensure all Marylanders who need it have access to devices.
The digital divide has long existed in Maryland and COVID-19 has highlighted the urgent need to address it for our State's economic sustainability. This investment will be a critical lifeline for Maryland students and small businesses.
Although I am happy to see the first $30 million in these funds be allocated, I am disappointed that Baltimore City was not one of the 18 jurisdictions included. It is vital that the digital divide be addressed through a lens of equity that prioritizes historically and systemically underinvested communities.
Unemployment Insurance Litigation Update
Last week, a judge ruled against the Hogan Administration’s attempt to end federal UI benefits, citing multiple laws passed by the Maryland General Assembly that require the State to accept federal benefits. In his opinion, Judge Fletcher-Hill disputed the Governor’s argument that the $300 weekly benefits deter workers from seeking work.
The judge noted many reasons people may not be able to return to employment, including the dilemma of working parents who have children who cannot be vaccinated and thus are reluctant to send them to childcare. It is critical to keep in mind that the impact of the pandemic has been cruelly uneven and our economy is still facing reverberations that are likely to continue for months to come as different sectors rebound at disparate paces. As noted by Judge Fletcher-Hill, cutting these short-term benefits would cause an “economic impact” on individuals and an “immediate loss of economic stimulus” to the State.
The legal challenges are not over as the Unemployed Workers’ Union filed a lawsuit this week alleging that many Marylanders have been denied benefits after being flagged for fraud or have had their claims placed “on hold” for months with no explanation. The suit seeks back-pay for these workers and resolution for untold others who have been charged with overpayments or have had their benefits denied with no explanation.
Trees and Environmental Equity
The number of trees in a neighborhood can significantly impact the health of its inhabitants. They provide shade that helps lower temperatures, resulting in lower energy consumption and electricity bills, absorb carbon dioxide, and bring welcome green space to urban areas.
Baltimore is far from reaching “Tree Equity” - the number of trees required for every neighborhood to enjoy the environmental and health benefits of greenery, according to a new report from American Forests. Too often, according to the group, the amount of green space is often a map of race and income.
This past Session, the General Assembly passed the Tree Solutions Now Act of 2021 with the goal of planting five million trees in the next decade. It aims to plant at least 500,000 of those trees in underserved and urban areas.
Cannabis Legalization a Priority in 2022
I joined WBAL NewsRadio on Monday to discuss many key issues affecting Marylanders and begin previewing the 2022 Legislative Session, including my support for legalization of cannabis. I believe that our policies around cannabis have been fatally flawed and we must carefully craft legislation to address the many issues that arise from legalization.
The General Assembly should take the lead on this issue and create a framework around legalization that recognizes the failed war on drugs and its disparate impact primarily on communities of color. Criminal and economic justice must be at the center of our work. At the same time, how to detect and deter driving under the influence and develop a plan to educate and protect children from cannabis use remain key concerns. Although I would have liked to see adult-use recreational cannabis legalized in the 2021 Session, it will be a top priority in 2022.
Improving Outcomes for Maryland's Youth
Maryland has the highest rate of incarceration for black men of all 50 states and is second only to Alabama in transferring youth to adult courts, according to The Sentencing Project. State numbers show that 80 percent of juveniles charged as adults in the past seven years were Black and 91 percent were male.
I am deeply proud of the work the General Assembly made this spring to address inherent racism in our State’s criminal justice system. We worked to increase trust, transparency, and accountability through police reform with a community-driven lens. The numbers in The Sentencing Project’s report shows that we have much more work to do to ensure that justice is, indeed, blind. Our juvenile justice system is long overdue for reform.
More News
The man who stormed into the Capital Gazette newsroom three years ago and killed five journalists was found to be criminally responsible for the attack and will be sentenced later this summer for the deadliest assault on an American newsroom.

Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger has helped to secure $750,000 for the Living Classrooms Foundation's Safe Streets program. Violence intervention funding has been a priority in the Maryland General Assembly for years and I am thrilled that Congress recognizes the importance of data-driven approaches to building safe communities.
The Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission will hold public hearings this fall to promote reconciliation with the families of those who were killed. The Attorney General is hiring a racial healing workshop leader to train commissioners and their staff on ways to facilitate racial healing in the State. 
The Lyric, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Annapolis Shakespeare Co., and many other Maryland arts and entertainment venues hit hard by the pandemic will get an infusion of tens of millions of dollars thanks to federal grants from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
New business applications increased in nearly all Maryland counties in 2020, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau, an unexpected surge during a year overshadowed by COVID-19.

Julian L. “Jack” Lapides, an independent-minded former Maryland State senator, died last week. Senator Lapides served in the Senate for almost 30 years. He was assigned to the Budget & Taxation Committee and was known for championing environmental and public disclosure laws.
Get ready to turn on your lights and join your neighbors for National Night Out 2021 this August 3rd. The annual event enhances the relationship between neighbors and law enforcement.
The Baltimore area has suffered some of the worst postal delays in the country, with delivery times worsened by the pandemic. The Office of Inspector General is taking a deeper look at why the City’s mail service is listed in the bottom 10 service areas nationwide.
State Sen. George C. Edwards will retire at the end of his current term, ending a career in public service that spanned nearly five decades. Senator Edwards worked tirelessly for his rural Western Maryland constituents in a bipartisan manner, and was a model senator. The “Mountain Man” will be sorely missed.
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.