As the Maryland General Assembly began meeting for the 2022 session, the legislature homed in on a host of issues, including COVID, climate and care for loved ones.
“This is the year of the Cs!” said Lisa Klingenmaier, Catholic Charities’ assistant director of advocacy.
Driving these priorities and other legislative deliberations in this session is a historic budget surplus, the result of increased federal funding during COVID-19 and Maryland’s management of that money. Most years, Catholic Charities must focus its advocacy on ensuring the state does not cut programs serving vulnerable populations, but this year may allow for a broader approach.
“We have a structural surplus for the first time anyone can remember,” said Regan Vaughan, the organization’s director of advocacy. “It just changes the climate in Annapolis.”
Catholic Charities’ focus during the 2022 session includes four key priorities: the budget, health, workforce and immigration.
Calling the budget the “moral document of the state,” Vaughan said Catholic Charities aims to ensure Maryland’s commitments to those in need are strong. Governor Larry Hogan’s budget, released in mid-January, includes previously promised increases in the rates offered to nursing homes and providers of behavioral health and developmental disability services.
“It’s good the increases are in there so we don’t have to fight for them, but it’s still catch up from years of disinvestment,” Vaughan said.
Catholic Charities will watch other funding such as proposed increases to the Temporary Disability Assistance Program (TDAP). This money does not come directly to the organization, but can benefit many of its clients.
Vaughan and her team are also supporting a $3 million allocation in the governor’s budget for two of Catholic Charities’ capital projects – renovated facilities for Gallagher Services and the development of a new intergenerational center in West Baltimore.
One of the major pushes in health care for Catholic Charities this year is an effort to invest in the tools and reforms necessary to ensure behavioral health providers can meet increasing demands for services. The organization is part of the diverse Maryland Behavioral Health Coalition, which is advocating to expand care coordination models, ensure reliable reimbursements for services and increase access to wraparound supports for children and youth.
“This is a blueprint for how we can deliver behavioral health services going forward,” Vaughan explained.
Catholic Charities will also engage in efforts to enhance funding aimed at stopping violence. Proposed legislation would allow Maryland to use Medicaid funding for certain roles in violence-prevention programs, a strategy that aligns well with Safe Streets‘ public health approach.
And the organization supports increasing the number of seniors who can receive in-home assisted living services funded through the state. Currently, only 7,500 people can receive these home services, and there is a waiting list of up to 8 years. Proposed legislation would make 7,500 the minimum served, rather than the maximum.
Momentum is building behind a bill known as the Time to Care Act that would create a pool for paid family and medical leave. The proposal, a key priority for Catholic Charities and a broad coalition of partners, would require both employers and employees to pay into the insurance pool. Those needing to take time off to care for themselves or their loved ones would have a percentage of their salary covered for up to 12 weeks, with the lowest income earners receiving the greatest percentage.
While workers have always needed more flexibility to take care of children, parents and themselves, the COVID-19 pandemic – including the need to quarantine to protect others – has only increased the urgency of this paid leave.
Note: On Monday, Feb. 7, 2022 at 3 p.m., Catholic Charities will co-sponsor a webinar with the Catholic Labor Network entitled “Time to Care – Paid Family Leave and the Catholic Church.” Individuals interested in attending can register here.
As part of Catholic Charities’ focus on serving immigrants, the organization strongly supports the Healthy Children Equity Act, which would allow pregnant women to qualify for Medicaid, regardless of their immigration status.
Seventeen other states currently provide this expanded coverage either through Medicaid or other state programs. This approach leads to reduced maternal mortality and severe complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and better birth outcomes for babies.
A chance to do more
Vaughan said she is optimistic that this session could advance key priorities for Catholic Charities.
“Most of our 2022 priorities reflect longstanding concerns, but with this year’s budget surplus, Maryland is in a different position. We have the opportunity to create lasting change that strengthens safety nets and protects neighbors who need it most,” she said.