Maryland’s General Assembly took strong action to protect and provide for Maryland’s most vulnerable children and youth, and their families. Faced with continued assaults on the federal safety net, the legislature passed bills that will restore social security benefits to youth in foster care, provide critical supports for young infants and those raising them, and expand critical programs that ensure all children have access to healthy, nutritious foods.
However, as the balloons fell at midnight much work remained pending for after the elections to address long-standing disparities for youth in our education, justice, and health systems.
Wins on Critical Reforms in Child Welfare, Birth to Three, and Economic Sufficiency
National Precedent: Our Child Welfare policy priority focused on protecting federal benefits for youth in foster care (SB 291/HB 524). Currently, instead of using the additional money for the individual needs of the children entitled to it, the Department of Human Services uses the money to reimburse themselves for the cost of foster care. This bill requires the Department of Human Services to create savings accounts to protect federal benefits for youth while they are in foster care. These funds can be accessed once the youth exits the foster care system in an attempt to improve what are currently bleak outcomes for our most vulnerable youth. After years of relentless advocacy, ACY is thrilled that Maryland became the first state in the nation to restore these critical benefits to their rightful recipients.
Maryland also became one of the first states in the nation to expand its Birth Match law, which provides a safety check for newborns whose parents have had their parental rights terminated due to abusing and/or neglecting older children. Our expansions (SB 490/ HB 454) will ensure that newborns whose parents have been convicted of killing a child will also receive a safety check. This is an effort to intervene and potentially prevent neglect, abuse, or death of the new baby from occurring.
We also saw progress on a number of reforms in our Birth to Three Strategic Initiative. The Assembly passed a critical expansion of Maryland’s Child Care Subsidy (SB 379/HB 430), eliminating barriers for low-income families to receive high quality child care. And the legislature passed SB 912/HB 1685, “Thrive By Three,” to increase funding for care coordination for pregnant parents and families with young children.
This session also saw leadership on Economic Sufficiency reforms. The legislature overrode the veto of the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, ensuring paid sick and safe leave for 700,00 Marylanders. The Assembly also took action on a trio of anti-hunger programs that would ensure all children have access to healthy, nutritious foods. The budget included $200,000 in matching funds that people receiving federal benefits can use to buy food at their local farmers market (SB 185); to doubled the funding for nationally recognized school breakfast programs that allow students to eat breakfast on the go, rather than in the cafeteria (SB 818/HB 1235); and created a phased in process to eliminate the cumbersome ‘reduced price’ meals options in schools, ensuring all children in need have access free breakfast and lunch (SB 740/HB 315).
More Work Remains on Education, Health, and Justice
Our Education Program seeks to eliminate the disparity gap in our schools by focusing on three areas – climate, discipline, and funding. We were pleased to see legislation pass that would require MSDE to be more transparent in its release of student arrest and suspension data (HB 1254). But we did not see progress on reforms that would end the school to prison pipeline – a term used to describe the often unfair and harsh criminal consequences that disproportionately impact African-American students and students with disabilities – such as legislation requiring increased training for school police to better understand child and adolescent development (HB 1488). And while legislation to increase funding for school facilities (BILL XX) and to lockbox more funding for schools (BILL XX, HB 1415) did advance this session, the real work remains in 2019, when the legislature will have to grapple with the full set of recommendations by the Kirwin Commission and ensure that schools are adequately funded in a way that addresses the disparities within our education system (link??).
Our Health Policy priority will also be decided in 2019, as our bill that would authorize a mid-level dental provider, known as dental therapists, to practice in Maryland (SB 544/HB 879) was transformed into a study, with a report due at the end of the year. This reform would increase access to dental care in Maryland for low-income kids and families who are not able to get to the dentist. ACY also supported the efforts of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative to increase drug pricing transparency (SB 1023/HB 1194)and to address issues around the affordability and access to health care coverage (SB 1011/HB 1167) NEED UPDATE .
Likewise, the legislature failed to act on critical reforms in Youth Justice that would improve conditions and outcomes for justice system involved youth across the state. The Assembly failed to take action on legislation that would give youth who get involved in the system the support they need for better outcomes (SB 257/HB 555 and SB 657/HB 1244) or fund violence intervention and prevention programs (SB 545/HB 432). And while legislation that would have directly exposed more youth to harsher penalties (SB 198/HB 102) did not pass, the legislature took steps backwards on crime by moving an omnibus crime package that brings back failed practices like mandatory minimums as an attempt to deter crime (SB 122).