Thursday, May 26, 2022

2022 Updates: Maryland State Legislation Supported by the Maryland Poor People’s Campaign

MD PPC has working groups, fed from regional organizing, that handle certain logistical aspects of the campaign. The MD PPC Policy/Legislations Working Group focuses on legislative observance and research; legislative outreach and advocacy; and political education on legislation.

#1 – Victory for Renters!

Last year, the Right to Counsel in Renter’s Courti bill was passed but not funded. This year, money from Maryland’s abandoned property fund will be used to provide legal counsel to low-income renters facing eviction proceedings.ii Most landlords in Maryland have legal representation at renter’s court, while the vast majority of renters do not. This bill seeks to implement strategies recommended by the Maryland Attorney General’s Access to Counsel in Evictions Task Force, which acknowledges that evictions not only impact issues like homelessness, unemployment, and lack of access to health care, but are more likely to be imposed on people of color.iii 

#2 – Victory for Patients!

Last year, the End to Medical Debtiv bill was passed but not implemented. This year, the bill was enrolled and therefore will begin the process of reimbursing low-income patients who were charged for health services between 2017-2022 that should have been low- or no-cost. It also establishes rules related to how hospitals and other care providers offer financial assistance and payment plans to low-income patients.v This bill was created in response to the Maryland Health Service Cost Review Commission’s 2020 finding that over 60% of medical debt owed to hospitals was held by patients whose income qualified them for free

#3 – Victory for Climate Justice!

The Climate Solutions Actvii sets a timeline for sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions by boosting use of renewable energy sources, increasing the energy efficiency of buildings, and encouraging zero-emissions transportation options.viii The increase in catastrophic weather events caused by climate change, resulting in flooding, fires, and wind damage, disproportionately affects low-wealth people and minority communities. Additionally, regardless of location or economic factors, people of color are more likely to be exposed to harmful air pollution and consequently suffer from respiratory, allergic, and other health issues.ix

#4 – Victory for Juvenile Justice Reform!

The Child Interrogation Protection Actx requires law enforcement to notify the parent/guardian of any minor they take into custody of the minor’s location, reason for being taken into custody, and how to contact that minor in-person, before any interrogation occurs. This change aims to combat the stark racial disparities between how black and brown youth encounter the juvenile justice system as compared to their white counterparts. White juveniles are more likely to self-report when questioned by law enforcement. While black juveniles self-report less often, they are subsequently more likely to be arrested and incarcerated, also serving longer and/or harsher sentences than white youth in similar situations.xi

#5 – Victory for Paid Family Leave!

The Time to Care Act of 2022xii will establish a state fund to provide paid benefits to workers who take leave because of personal health issues, caring for a family member, or military service/deployment impacting caretaking within the family. This law will be phased in over the next 2+ years and workers would be able to apply to receive benefits in 2025.xiii Low-wage workers are much less likely to have access to paid family leave. But states that offer these benefits have seen improvements in maternal and infant health, early childhood education and development, and economic stability for workers and their employers.xiv

S.B.662 - 444th Maryland General Assembly (2022): Access to Counsel in Evictions Special Fund Funding. (2022, April 9).
ii O’Neill, M. (2022, April 13). MD access to counsel in evictions program readies to launch with new funding. Maryland Daily Record.
iii Access to Counsel in Evictions Task Force. (2022, January). Report of the Access to Counsel in Evictions Task Force. Maryland Office of the Attorney General.
iv H.B.694 - 444th Maryland General Assembly (2022): Medical Bill Reimbursement. (2022, April 4).
Bonessi, D. M. (2021, March 29). Some Marylanders Could Be Protected From Medical Debt Under New Bill. WAMU 88.5 American University Radio.
vi Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission. (2021, February). Analysis of the Impact of Hospital Financial Assistance Policy Options on Uncompensated Care and Costs to Payers. State of Maryland.
vii S.B.528 - 444th Maryland General Assembly (2022): Climate Solutions Act. (2022, March 19).
viii Shwe, E. (2022, March 10). Senate Moves to Pass Climate Solutions Now Act After a Marathon Floor Session. Maryland Matters.
ix Eilperin, J. & Fears, D. (2021, April 28). Deadly air pollutant ‘disproportionately and systematically’ harms Americans of color, study finds. The Washington Post.
S.B.53 - 444th Maryland General Assembly (2022): Child Interrogation Protection Act. (2022, April 9).
xi Gaskill, H. (2022, January 29). General Assembly Considering Changes to Maryland’s Juvenile Justice System. Maryland Matters.
xii S.B.275- 444th Maryland General Assembly (2022): Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program. (2022, April 8).
xiii Murphy, J. J. (2022, May 2). Maryland’s ‘Time to Care Act’—Frequently Asked Questions About Paid Family and Medical Leave Benefits for Maryland Workers. Ogletree Deakins.
xiv Romig, K., and Bryant, K. (2021, April 27). A National Paid Leave Program Would Help Workers, Families. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Opinion: As It’s Now Written, Thrive Montgomery 2050 Would Create More Poverty

 This op-ed by Eneshal Miller, Co-Lead of MD PPC Montgomery Regional Organizing Group, originally appeared in Maryland Matters.

I am writing to support the significance of engaging poor residents for low-income housing accessibility.

Fully 77,000 households — more than 20% of households — in Montgomery County, earn less than $50,000 per year; many are living in crowded and unsafe conditions in order to afford rent. All Montgomery residents, including low-wealth citizens and non-citizens as newcomers who are poor, deserve to live in beautiful, safe, healthy dwellings and neighborhoods, but we face many barriers, including language barriers.

Montgomery County’s decisions about housing and land use policy affect poor people profoundly.

Though our communities are deeply affected by the county’s decisions, including master plans, poor people and communities of color have not been partners in the crafting of Thrive Montgomery 2050, the proposed renewal and revision of the countywide General Plan.

We need the county to start projecting how we will survive because Thrive is Coming. Many people have testified that it’s likely to result in rent hikes. “It’s already here,” we’re told by councilmembers“it’s a go, we’ve already had surveys done,” but the meetings took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, when poor people were under tremendous pressures and lacked the resources to participate in public decisions including Thrive Montgomery 2050.

Council and planning board members tell residents, “Thrive in itself isn’t really that impactful, it’s only a policy vision, it doesn’t change zoning.” This claim is misleading.

Thrive, as the renewed General Plan, sets land use policy, so it sets the stage for zoning changes to implement the policy. If Thrive is to live up to its name for all residents, then poor people must participate as full partners in shaping it. We need a different public engagement process.

This past winter, when the Montgomery County Council requested the Office of Legislative Oversight to perform a racial equity and social justice analysis of the Thrive proposed draft, the legislative oversight’s Elaine Bonner-Tomkins recommended in her response that the council elicit the meaningful input of residents of color from communities of color and low-income residents to co-create and update Thrive so that it reflects a consensus of land use policies and practices aimed at advancing racial equity and social justice.

When the Office of Legislative Oversight reviews a proposed bill or other legislation, one of their standard tasks is to “discern the potential impact of proposed legislation based on a review of who is mostly likely to benefit from the bill, who is most likely to be harmed, and what are the demographics (race, ethnicity, income) of the bill’s ‘winners and losers.’”

Connecting our community to decision makers and planners helps the county to successfully address racial equity and social justice concerns. We need more access to parks and nearby nature, accessible housing and affordable housing in places close to transit. Ensuring that all residents’ needs are met requires an inclusive process where low-wealth people are at the table.

We offer to help the council to locate impacted persons who live here as low-wealth residents to be invited to serve as stakeholders in the council’s Thrive racial equity and social justice review process. Our communities require adequate time to thoroughly review the existing draft and co-create the land use policies that we need.

So, we ask the council to provide an additional 18 months in the Thrive process.

This inclusive, respectful process can serve as a pilot demonstration, which educates and engages residents about the health disparities, hardships and high costs related to living in a thriving community.

What is at stake for residents when engagement is low? What does displacement look like and who may become displaced? How can we protect low-wealth communities from displacement?

Answering these questions requires analysis of Thrive’s recommended changes.

As poor people, we have the most at stake. The low-income, low-wealth and unhoused will pay greatly for Thrive as it is now written. We suffer from historical and current discriminatory practices. We feel that we are having to negotiate for our existence.

The council has arrived at a conclusion that Thrive must pass. But it has only acted as representative for residents who are comfortable, who will not lose anything, for corporations that are not sustainable and whose actions cause displacement.

As now written, Thrive would in fact create more poverty.

To subject Thrive to a thorough racial equity and social justice process, the council must now seek out and work with the low-wealth community which has never been approached. To respectfully exchange information with low-wealth residents, one way the county could provide this is by creating local information hubs for residents working toward accessible, affordable housing and all of the other proposals of Thrive.