July 24, 2020
After weeks of progress and flattening the curve of COVID-19 infections through mitigation efforts, cases are rising again at an alarming rate throughout the State. It's also increasingly likely that cases being identified today are really from 1-2 weeks ago as the time it takes to receive test results has also steadily increased in recent weeks.

This is another moment that leadership acutely demonstrates one's values. We can choose to take steps that allow schools to reopen more quickly, or continue allowing activities linked to increasing community transmission in other parts of the country. While collective individual action is undoubtedly critical, people take cues from what is deemed safe based on what is allowed to operate.

If we are truly going to prioritize, "bridging the digital divide, educational equity, and educational justice," as was expressed by Maryland Schools Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon on Wednesday, that means taking meaningful action that accomplishes those objectives.
City Schools to Open Virtually
This week, Baltimore City Public Schools also announced that they will open the school year through virtual instruction with the goal of a hybrid of virtual and in-person learning later in the fall. I’m disappointed that schools will not be reopening this fall, both as a parent and as a policy maker. I’m gravely concerned about students who are not being reached through distance education, and I worry that preexisting academic gaps are only being exacerbated. That exact concern was highlighted in today's The Baltimore Sun and I encourage you to read the article .

That said, I understand the decision as a matter of public health necessity and support the districts that have made these hard choices. I look forward to City Schools' update on October 16 regarding a decision to return to in-person learning in the future.
Baltimore City Suspends Indoor Dining
It is alarming to see Baltimore City included in a list of cities requiring aggressive action to curb rising COVID-19 infections. The positivity rate in the 21224 zip code remains unacceptably high at over 15%, compared to around a 5% rate statewide. As a number of restaurants have had to temporarily suspend operations after employees contracted COVID-19, I can understand why Mayor Jack Young made the decision to roll back indoor dining at bars and restaurants beginning today at 5pm .

The timing is especially challenging with Baltimore Restaurant Week beginning. I hope you will still participate this year and support local restaurants through takeout, or outdoor dining where available. My office stands ready to assist any restaurants looking to expand outdoor dining and will work with the City to help make that happen as quickly as possible.
YouthWorks Begins
In a more positive development, Baltimore City’s YouthWorks Program started last week after making unbelievable changes to its program. While it is operating with fewer teens, students will experience a hybrid of in-person and remote employment during this Covid-19 summer. The re-imagined program will continue its history of teaching job skills and employment readiness. Each student will be paid about $1,100 for the summer, a boost to their families and the economy. The program provides a crucial constructive outlet for our City's young people during the summer months and I look forward to it being fully operational when safe.
Eviction Prevention Resources
Despite my advocacy for Governor Hogan to extend the eviction moratorium for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency, he has refused to do so. The $30 million in rental assistance from the State, including $20 million to local governments to distribute is a good start but entirely insufficient. According to a report released by the Senate he total estimated need is closer to $150 million across the state and we will continue pressing Governor Hogan to provide greater assistance to Marylanders in need.

As eviction proceedings are likely to resume in the next few weeks, I have put together a document to help constituents navigate the process . Included, you will find:
  1. A summary from the memo produced by Maryland District Courts on July 17th;
  2. Answers to frequently asked questions compiled by the Public Justice Center; and 
  3. Contact information for organizations providing legal and other aid to qualifying residents.
Maryland Work-Share, Transit, and Elections
I'm immensely grateful for Senators Katie Fry Hester's and Jim Rosapepe's tireless work to get the word out about Maryland's work-share program, recognizing it as a win-win for businesses and the state. Maryland small-business owners may benefit from the little-known program designed to bring their employees back to work. Eligible employees who return to work part-time could receive partial unemployment benefits, including any additional weekly payments authorized by Congress in the next COVID-19 legislative package. 

If more businesses took advantage of the program, small businesses’ unemployment insurance taxes would remain the same and Maryland’s unemployment insurance fund could possibly save nearly $46 million. You can learn more about the program and spread the word to Maryland businesses by going to the MD Department of Labor's webpage .
One issue I am watching closely is funding for public transit operations as the next federal COVID-19 aid package emerges. The Maryland Transit Authority (MTA) has already lost $550 million in revenue due to the coronavirus and t he federal infusion of $392 million from the CARES Act will only last the agency about six months. Despite the shortfall, the MTA could miss out on a second round of federal emergency funding due to a provision requiring most of the money to be distributed based on populations, not ridership.

While Baltimore residents use MTA’s services more per person than those in some larger areas, the Baltimore area falls shy of the population requirement of 3 million. I am grateful for the advocacy of our Congressional Delegation, including Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen who have co-signed a letter asking Senate leaders to allocate another $32 billion in emergency aid to transit systems through the end of 2021.
I remain disappointed in Governor Hogan's decision to hold a normal General Election in November while mailing mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters. Beyond the obvious public health risks and logistical challenges, the full cost of the decision was made clear this week in a letter from Maryland's State Board of Elections Administrator Linda Lamone. The 2020 General Election is estimated to cost the state $20 million, including an additional $6.5 million in printing and postage costs to send ballot applications that could have been avoided in Maryland was to just send mail-in ballots like we did for the June Primary Election.
More Highlights
In case you missed it, I sat down for a Facebook Live conversation last week with Mary Ann Scully, Chairman and CEO of Howard Bank, to discuss how Howard Bank has helped its clients navigate the COVID-19 crisis. Mary Ann shared her thoughts on how the state’s small businesses are faring during the pandemic and the effect of the economic downturn on the state. You can check out the conversation here .

Governor Hogan needs to "Put his foot down" and enforce proper precautions for patrons of bars and restaurants, according to The Baltimore Sun's Editorial Board. They encourage the Governor to make decisions “based on data” and reverse course on his decision to allow establishments to offer indoor dining service at reduced capacity.

Health officers from Maryland's most populous jurisdictions wrote to the Maryland Department of Health, asking for more unified, statewide actions to help stop the spread of COVID-19 including closing bars and restaurants for indoor dining.

State Schools Superintendent Dr. Salmon announced on Wednesday that the State is providing $100 million in funding to bridge the digital divide, as well as another $100 million towards tutoring for students who have fallen behind. While I applaud the funding, the decision to allocate funds on a per pupil basis versus the need of each individual school district is incredibly problematic.

The Washington Post’s Editorial Board questioned Governor Hogan’s decision to hold in-person elections this November and not to simply mail ballots to all Marylanders, adding the extra step of processing absentee ballot applications—a burden on the state and on voters who do not feel comfortable voting in-person.

I am disappointed that Governor Hogan has not taken action to extend the moratorium on evictions that expires tomorrow, leaving tenants vulnerable to losing their homes while the pandemic continues. While $30 million in funding for rental assistance was a good first step, there is much more that needs to be done.
Please do not hesitate to contact my office if there is anything we can do to help via email at bill.ferguson@senate.state.md.us , or phone via (410) 841-3600 by leaving a voicemail to be returned promptly.