Legislative Wrap: 2018
This session the 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; expand essential programs that ensure all children have access to healthy, nutritious foods; lay a foundation for better school discipline practices; and invest in violence intervention and prevention efforts.
Progress for Maryland’s Children and Youth
National Precedent: Our Child Welfare policy priority focused on protecting federal benefits for youth in foster care (SB 291/HB 524). Currently, the Department of Human Services (DHS) applies for Social Security benefits for foster youth, but instead of using the additional money for the individual needs of that child, DHS uses the money to reimburse themselves for the cost of foster care. This bill requires the DHS to create savings accounts for older foster youth, and put their federal benefits into those accounts. When the youth ages out of care, she can have the savings to help her transition to adulthood. We are hopeful that this will 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 is also one of the only states in the nation with a Birth Match law, and it was expanded to close some dangerous gaps. Birth match 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.
Also, ACY championed efforts that led to the creation of a Foster Care Bill of Rights (SB 787), expansion of the existing tuition waiver for foster and homeless youth (SB 85), and the passage in the Senate of the Ending Homeless Youth Act of 2018 (SB 1218/ HB 1224).
We also saw progress on a number of reforms in our Birth to Three Strategic Initiative. The General 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. The “Ulysses Currie Act” also passed which will mandate a minimum appropriation for Head Start for low income young children and their parents. The legislature also 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 Maryland taking the lead on Economic Sufficiency reforms. The legislature overrode the veto of the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, ensuring paid sick and safe leave for 700,000 Marylanders. The General 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 double 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).
Our Education Policy seeks to eliminate the disparity gap in our schools by focusing on three areas – school 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), which will make a significant impact on MSDE’s accountability measures and best practices in eradicating the school to prison pipeline.
Our Health Policy priority, a 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. Dental therapy would expand the dental workforce in Maryland, improve access to care, and address health disparities in poor communities. ACY also supported the efforts of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative to increase drug pricing transparency and to address issues around the affordability and access to health care coverage. ACY congratulates Governor Hogan, the Maryland General Assembly, and our health advocacy partners for their efforts in passing the Maryland Health Care Access Act of 2018 (SB387). This critical piece of legislation establishes a reinsurance program that will result in lower health insurance premiums for all Marylanders.
Finally, we were pleased to see the state make a meaningful investment in Youth Justice programs that will fund violence intervention and prevention efforts (SB 545/HB 432). This legislation creates the Maryland Violence Intervention and Prevention Program Fund to support effective violence reduction strategies by providing competitive grants to local governments and nonprofit organizations to fund evidence-based programs, with the funding authorized at up to $10,000,000 to the Fund.
Disparities Remain Unaddressed
While we saw significant progress across our issue areas, we are disappointed that the legislature moved reforms dealing with school funding, school safety, and crime that failed to address the core problems and racial disparities currently driving negative outcomes for Maryland’s children and youth. These are important issues and facing an election year, there was significant pressure to pass legislation quickly. We are disappointed that there was not a deeper exploration by the General Assembly into passing legislation that would ensure better outcomes for children of color across the state.
We look forward to working with elected officials, community members, and allies over the coming year to ensure that in the next legislative session we see meaningful progress implementing the Kirwin Commission recommendations, tackling issues that put youth at risk of entering the justice system, and implementing the study recommendations to expand dental access.