Maryland state senators are pushing forward an expanded pandemic financial aid package that would send payments to low-income residents, offer tax breaks to businesses and direct extra funding to programs as varied as food banks, mass transit and support for people with disabilities.
“I think we produced a product that is going to be very helpful to a lot of people, so we should all be proud of this moment,” said Sen. Guy Guzzone, moments after the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee that he chairs took a bipartisan, unanimous vote Thursday to advance the bill.
After hearing the Hogan administration’s official pitch during a hearing Tuesday, Democratic senators proposed the next day to tack on $520 million more in aid. The senators called their additions the “Recovery Now” amendment.
The expanded package includes scores of financial assistance efforts, among them:
- Making two rounds of direct payments to low- to moderate-income Marylanders, totaling up to $450 per individual or $750 per family. This group is defined as those who claim the earned income tax credit on their taxes.
- Eliminating state and local income taxes on unemployment benefits.
- Granting breaks to certain businesses on sales tax and unemployment taxes, as well as on prior pandemic financial aid.
- Wiping out utility and rental debt for a few thousand families.
- One-time, $1,000 payments to people whose unemployment claims are in an adjudication process.
- Restoring bus and train service to prepandemic levels.
- Restoring eligibility to individuals who have been dropped from the Temporary Disability Assistance Program, and increasing the benefit by $100 per month.
- Issuing grants to food banks, volunteer fire departments, artists, nonprofit organizations, restaurants and hotels.
The financial effects — a combination of paying out money and missing out on taxes that would have been collected — would be spread out over two different government budget years: the year that runs through June 30, and the budget year that starts July 1.
Senators are proposing a variety of budget maneuvers to pay for their expansion, including using $320 million from the state’s rainy day fund.
The Senate committee approved the expanded bill Thursday after nearly two hours of discussing the details, but without debate on the merits of the bill. The vote was taken by a show of hands, with the senators meeting in person in their committee room in Annapolis, masked and with plastic guards around their desks.
The committee vote set the aid package up for potential approval by the Senate as soon as next week.
The measure would then go to the House of Delegates for consideration. Delegates are currently considering Hogan’s original proposal, with a hearing scheduled for next week.
Guzzone, a Howard County Democrat, said his committee acted quickly because of the great need “to help people as soon as possible.”