Maryland Senate passes $1.5 billion pandemic relief measure

Mineral Daily News-Tribune
Maryland State House

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland Senate approved about $1.5 billion in pandemic relief on Friday, including direct stimulus payments to low and moderate income residents.

The measure, first proposed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, includes benefits of up to $750 for families and $450 for individuals. The payments would reach about 400,000 Maryland residents. The measure repeals all state and local income taxes on unemployment benefits. It also includes sales tax credits of up to $3,000 a month for four months for small businesses.

Hogan’s plan initially called for more than $1 billion in relief. The Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, added another $520 million. That includes aid for education, business, health, housing aid transportation and unemployment assistance. The measure approved by the Senate includes $1,000 grants for jobless residents whose unemployment checks are stalled in adjudication.

“This pandemic has been so difficult for everyone, and the combination of what the Senate was able to add to the governor’s package was really targeted at this diverse impact of this once in a 100 year experience,” Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat.

Republican Sen. Bryan Simonaire, the minority leader, thanked the governor and Democrats for working in a bipartisan manner.

“This is the way government should work, and I congratulate you,” Simonaire, of Anne Arundel County, said.

The measure, which passed the Senate unanimously, now goes to the House of Delegates, where the majority leader said this week it has support.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, has called on lawmakers to approve more aid. He said the measure leaves out tens of thousands of families who use Individual Tax Identification Numbers instead of Social Security numbers. Last year, 86,000 ITIN tax filers paid more than $100 million in state and local taxes, he said, adding that he has identified 42,000 of them who would qualify for relief under the measure, if they were included.

“Many of these immigrant families also belong to communities that have disproportionately been unemployed, become ill, or died from COVID,” Franchot said in a statement.

Lawmakers plan to use a number of funds in state government over this fiscal year and the next to pay for the plan. A large part, about $320 million, would come from the state’s rainy day fund. Another $100 million would come from a local income tax reserve fund. About $150 million would come from the state’s retirement program over two years — $75 million in each year — money that is above what is required but has been used to shore up the system.

Other states also have paid or proposed direct COVID-19 relief to individuals or businesses. Minnesota passed a relief bill in December that includes payments to certain businesses that were shut down, such as restaurants.

Colorado in December sent one-time checks of $375 to more than 400,000 people who had received unemployment payments earlier in the year. New Mexico in November approved $1,200 relief checks to people who had exhausted their unemployment benefits. The state’s relief package also included $750 payments to residents who were ineligible for the federal stimulus checks.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed last month to send $600 checks to people making $30,000 or less, and also proposed $575 million in grants for small businesses.