Gov. Larry Hogan’s erratic leadership throughout the COVID-19 health crisis has caused immense stress on families and businesses across the state. His most recent press conferences pressuring school systems to reopen in person, and moving the state to Stage 3 without a vaccine or treatment are just two examples.
More importantly, the governor has refused to put in place more supports for families.
State Superintendent of Maryland Schools Karen Salmon and Governor Hogan waited just days before school starts, or in some cases after school has already started, to give local school systems any guidance. This is not effective leadership.
We as elected officials, have families and children impacted by these decisions. Our own households and the families we represent are deeply stressed about how to balance employment, help our children adapt to online learning, and the other difficulties brought on by the current health crisis. Inconsistent policies exacerbate this stress.
Innovative investments and policies could help alleviate the stress and address some of the obstacles caused by COVID-19, including child care challenges, housing insecurity and the digital divide.
We offer some recommendations:
Employer Flexibility: These unprecedented times will impact many businesses for the foreseeable future. Employers should work to accommodate, to the best of their ability, the schedules of parents who are trying to do what is best for their children, while also juggling a job. We commend businesses who are already offering this flexibility. We recommend all employers to sign up for Maryland’s Work Sharing Unemployment Insurance Program, which allow workers who have their hours reduced to receive partial unemployment benefits. Employers might also want to consider subsidizing child care or even offering it in their facilities so that their employees can continue to work. We also call upon the federal government and our state lawmakers to provide incentives that allow for businesses to be flexible, such as allowing for long-term leave without the risk of losing their jobs. In addition, more aid for small businesses is needed since many want to limit COVID-19 exposure to their staff and customers. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance has been reduced to $300 per week, making it harder for families to pay for basic needs. We need a better option for families who have to devote time to their children’s learning.
Housing: The federal government recently announced a moratorium on evictions after weeks of warnings from advocates and public officials about the harm evictions would cause. Tenants have to complete a form certifying their lack of income is from COVID-19 and send it to their landlords to stop eviction proceedings. This is only a half measure, as true relief for renters and landlords involves rental support. Fortunately, the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development is providing an additional $30 million because the governor and federal government refuse to take further action. But this is not enough and more rent relief is needed. The governor should allocate at least an additional $75 million from CARES Act funds to rental support. Other states, including those with Republican governors, have used much of their CARES Act funding for rental assistance. Maryland should do the same. We also encourage renters to pay their rent if they can, so that they are not facing a mountain of back rent when the moratorium expires.
Digital Divide: Efforts by the Baltimore City Public Schools, Baltimore Teachers Union and SOMOS (Students Organizing a Multicultural Open Society) to bring attention to the widening digital divide led to more funds for computers for Baltimore City. We call on our major telecommunications providers — AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — to ensure that no family is cut off from using the internet in their homes, and that heavily discounted programs with full connection speeds can be accessed by all families.
We look forward to working with our state and local lawmakers as well as our Congressional delegation to support our families so our children can continue to learn in this incredibly challenging environment.
We call upon the governor and our agency leaders to consider and engage with families across the state when making decisions that affect us, and end inconsistent and confusing policies that cause more stress on families.
Odette Ramos (email@example.com) is the Democratic nominee for Baltimore City’s 14th City Council District and Del. Stephanie Smith (Stephanie.Smith@house.state.md.us) represents Maryland 45th legislative district and is the chair of the Baltimore City House Delegation. Also contributing to this article were Dels. Tony Bridges, Brooke Lierman and Nick Mosby; Sen. Mary Washington and Baltimore City Councilmembers Zeke Cohen and Bill Henry.