2022 Key victories

Time to Care Act of 2022

After years of work culminating in a veto override on the final weekend of Session, Maryland became the tenth state (plus the District of Columbia) to establish paid family and medical leave. HB 496 / SB 275 “Labor and Employment – Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program – Establishment (Time to Care Act of 2022)” will create an insurance fund to provide partial wage replacement for workers taking time away from jobs to care for new babies, loved ones with serious health conditions or disabilities, or themselves.

Child Care Package

In an extraordinary sweep, eight pieces of legislation focused on the needs of young children, their families, and child care providers won passage, most of them on Sine Die. The centerpiece of the package—HB 995 / SB 920 “Early Childhood Development – Child Care Scholarship Program – Alterations and Study”—will establish presumptive eligibility for child care scholarship applicants pending final determination. The bill also removes the requirement that applicants pursue child support enforcement, eliminates copayments for parents enrolled in certain safety net programs (such as WIC), mandates prompt payments for providers, and requires streamlining of the scholarship application itself. Other bills in the package provide targeted sales tax relief for new parents, codify and increase funding for key early childhood mental health initiatives, and dedicate resources for child care stabilization, capacity expansion, and hiring and retention.

Budget

An influx of federal pandemic relief funds combined with an unexpectedly robust state economic rebound made Maryland’s fiscal outlook more favorable than at any time in recent history. With support from the Governor and the General Assembly, advocates scored tremendous gains. Early childhood programs funded by the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, such as pre-K and Family Support (or “Patty”) Centers, will see an increase of $125.6 million over baseline in FY 2023. New State spending on the Child Care Scholarship Program and on the Child Care Package (see above) will total an additional $110.9 million.

For a third consecutive year, effects of the COVID-19 pandemic cascaded through the Maryland General Assembly’s annual legislative Session. Standard methods of operating in Annapolis—thrown into disarray by 2020’s abrupt early dismissal and last year’s gloom-and-Zoom proceedings—inched toward a new normal but remain a work in progress. Controversial, once-in-a-decade redistricting measures and the pressurized political dynamics of an election year added layers of complexity to the 2022 Session.

And yet, 2022 also brought fresh reminders of the virtues of taking a longer view. The pace and intensity of any 90-day Session can obscure the fact that legislative victories are often the product of months and even years of preceding effort. Great wine, as the saying goes, is made in the vineyard, not the cellar—a sentiment early childhood advocates can readily appreciate. Ideas for legislation need to take root and spread. The relationships that nurture them must be cultivated over time. And when the best-tended ideas ultimately bear fruit, the results can be extraordinary. So it is in 2022, a very, very good year

Key Victories

time to care act of 2022

After years of work culminating in a veto override on the final weekend of Session, Maryland became the tenth state (plus the District of Columbia) to establish paid family and medical leave (PFML). HB 496 / SB 275 “Labor and Employment – Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program – Establishment (Time to Care Act of 2022)” will create an insurance fund to provide partial wage replacement for workers taking time away from jobs to care for new babies, loved ones with serious health conditions or disabilities, or themselves.

MFN has long championed family-friendly workplace policies to give parents opportunities to balance the demands of their work with their families’ needs. MFN’s direct involvement with the Time to Care campaign dates to 2016, when Director of Public Policy Clinton Macsherry was named to the State’s Task Force to Study Family and Medical Leave Insurance. The Task Force report, issued just prior to the 2018 Session, contained the recommendations later embodied in the Time to Care Act. But for largely political reasons, General Assembly leaders insisted that advocates withhold comprehensive PFML legislation that year. MFN instead spearheaded a bill to create paid parental leave for State employees, a narrower but arguably instrumental step toward the broader goal. That bill passed with just minutes remaining in the 2018 Session, and Governor Hogan signed it into law.

In close to its present form, the Time to Care Act was introduced in 2019, 2020, and 2021. Each year, fierce opposition from some elements of the business community bottled up the bill in committee. MFN and its allies in the Time to Care Coalition nonetheless persevered and made steady progress. Polling consistently showed that an overwhelming majority of Marylanders—cutting across all regional, demographic, and party lines—supported PFML, even when told it would be funded by paycheck deductions. The Coalition grew to more than 2000 organizational and individual members. Hesitant legislators took note and gradually came on board.

MFN and the Coalition intensified community organizing and legislative advocacy efforts leading up to the 2022 Session. A major reward came in the form of endorsements by Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones, but sustained business opposition and Committee disagreements over important facets of the legislation threatened to sidetrack it yet again. Senate sponsors Antonio Hayes and Joanne Benson and House of Delegates sponsors Kris Valderrama, C.T. Wilson, and Ariana Kelly played key roles as debate and negotiations unfolded. Compromises that kept the structure of the PFML program

intact while extending implementation and specifying a rate-setting process ultimately allowed advocates and legislators to reach agreement. With a gubernatorial veto anticipated (accurately, it turned out), the bill advanced to the Governor’s desk in time to ensure that an in-Session override could take place—a constitutional necessity in an election year. Supermajorities in the Senate and House held firm, and the Time to Care Act of 2022 became law.

Highlights of “The Time to Care Act of 2022”:

The bill guarantees nearly all Maryland employees the right to up to 12 weeks of paid, job-protected leave to bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill loved one, deal with their own serious health needs, or address needs in connection with military deployment.

  • Covers nearly all employees in Maryland, regardless of employer size, including full-time and part-time workers and private and public sector workers.
  • Provides up to 12 weeks of leave with partial wage replacement when workers or their loved ones are seriously ill, when welcoming a new child (for parents of any gender, including foster and adoptive parents), or to address the impact of military deployment.
  • Allows new parents who also experience a separate illness or family crisis in the same year to take an additional 12 weeks of leave.
  • Ensures the right of employees to return to their jobs following leave (with very limited exceptions) and retain their health insurance during leave.
  • Provides leave benefits through an insurance system into which both employers and employees contribute, ensuring the program is affordable for both workers and businesses.
  • Exempts employers with fewer than 15 employees from mandated contributions to the insurance fund (though their employees remain eligible for benefits).
  • Requires a prompt actuarial study to guide the Maryland Department of Labor in setting the overall contribution rate needed for program solvency and the appropriate employer-employee contribution split.
  • Pays employees up to 90% of their wages on a sliding scale, with lower-income workers receiving the highest portion of their wages.
  • Specifies that weekly benefits will initially range from $50 to $1000 and will be adjusted in subsequent years for inflation.

child care package

In an extraordinary sweep, eight pieces of legislation focused on the needs of young children, their families, and child care providers won passage, most of them on Sine Die. Several of the bills evolved from well-attended virtual meetings, town halls, and other outreach to the provider community conducted during the fall of 2021 and early 2022 by MFN, organizational allies, and key legislators—notably Delegates Jared Solomon, Eric Ebersole, and Pam Queen and Senator Nancy King. The Senate President and House Speaker jointly declared the child care package a top priority for the Session, and the bills’ success in many ways reflects the growing (and overdue) recognition of two facts laid bare by the pandemic: Child care, in U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s words, is “a textbook example of a broken market.” Child care is, moreover, an essential public good that not only needs but deserves substantial public investment.

Bill summaries follow. Full text and related documents can be accessed at mgaleg.maryland.gov/mgawebsite via the bill search box.

HB 995 / SB 920 “Early Childhood Development – Child Care Scholarship Program – Alterations and Study”

This bill—the centerpiece of the package—will establish presumptive eligibility for child care scholarship (CCS) applicants, pending final determination. Reports from parents and providers indicate that weeks-long delays in the current CCS application process are common, and those delays can thwart parents’ opportunities to start new jobs or training programs. The bill also removes the requirement that applicants pursue child support enforcement, a major barrier to CCS participation. Further, the legislation eliminates copayments for parents enrolled in certain safety net programs (such as WIC), mandates prompt payments for providers, and requires streamlining of the scholarship application itself.

HB 89 / SB 480 “State Department of Education – Child Care Stabilization Grants”

With $53.2 million in State funds appropriated in the FY 2023 budget for child care stabilization grants, this bill the sets conditions and priorities for grant distribution, targeting providers whose financial hardship puts them at risk of closure and who have not previously received federally funded grants.

HB 993 / SB 919 “Child Care Capital Support Revolving Loan Fund – Established”

Seeded with $15 million in FY 2023 and an additional $10 million in FY 2024, the fund created by this legislation will make no-interest loans available to providers for expenses related to the acquisition, expansion, renovation, and new construction of child care facilities. As loan repayments return to the fund, the money will “revolve” in the form of new loans to more providers.

HB 1100 / SB 806 “Child Care Providers and Employees – Bonuses”

At a time when big-box stores and coffee chains are offering significant perks to new employees, child care providers struggle (as they so often do) to recruit and retain qualified staff. With a $16 million appropriation for use in 2022 and 2023, child care providers will be eligible for $1000 retention bonuses and up to $1000 new-hire bonuses if they remain in their jobs for a specified time. Both the retention and hiring bonuses will reward providers who meet professional development standards through the State child care credential. Additionally, child care employers are eligible for $500 grants to help offset the costs of on-boarding new employees.

HB 513 “Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Support Services Program – Established”

Building on a highly effective but long under-resourced program available through the State’s Child Care Resource Centers, this bill codifies and mandates $3 million in annual funding for the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Support Services Program (IECMHSSP). Originally piloted in the early 2000’s, the program has consistently documented outstanding results in preventing expulsions from child care and improving classroom climate. Increasing demand for services, however, has far outstripped available funding. By placing the program into statute, this bill gives it greater stability. The mandated funding level represents an approximately 50 percent increase over the program’s current allocation.

HB 725 / SB 506 “Children – Therapeutic Child Care Grant Program – Establishment”

Similar in effect to HB 513 (above), this bill codifies and mandates $3.75 million in annual funding for State grants to Therapeutic Child Care Programs (TTCP). Also like IECMHSSP, TTCP is an early intervention strategy. However, the children usually served in TCCP face greater developmental challenges and have more intensive needs. Consequently, appropriate care can be much more costly. Grants under this bill will provide sorely needed supplemental funding.

HB 282 / SB 316 “Sales and Use Tax – Diapers and Other Baby Products – Exemption” and HB 288 “Sales and Use Tax – Baby Products – Exemption”

These two bills will provide approximately $10 million annually in tax relief to parents of young children. Diapers, diaper rash cream, baby wipes, baby bottles, baby bottle nipples, and child care seats will be newly exempt from State sales tax.

budget

Budget advocacy always constitutes a top priority for MFN, and in 2022, an influx of federal pandemic relief funds combined with an unexpectedly robust state economic rebound made Maryland’s fiscal outlook more favorable than at any time in recent history. With support from the Governor and the General Assembly, advocates scored tremendous gains.

Early childhood programs funded by the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, such as pre-K and Family Support (or “Patty”) Centers, will see an increase of $125.6 million over baseline in FY 2023. These increases include:

  • $90.4 million for pre-K
  • $14.7 million for Judy Centers
  • $4.5 million for Family Support ( or “Patty”) Centers
  • $4.3 million for the Maryland Infants and Toddlers Program
  • $11.7 million for child care professional development support

New State spending on the CCS Program and on the Child Care Package (see above) will total an additional $110.9 million. These increases include:

  • $53.2 million for child care stabilization grants
  • $16 million for hiring and retention bonuses
  • $25 million (in FY 2023 and FY 2024 combined) for a child care facilities loan fund
  • $10 million in new State funding for CCS
  • $4.7 million for infant and early childhood mental health programs
  • $2 million for the elimination of copayments for some low-income CCS parents

looking ahead

Moving forward, MFN’s public policy work of necessity continues throughout the Interim between General Assembly sessions, as freshly minted legislation is implemented, task forces meet, new budget proposals are developed, contracts are negotiated, regulations are promulgated, and new ideas for legislation emerge for discussion and debate. Diligent follow-up by MFN and its allies on the implementation of the Time to Care Act and the many components of the Child Care Package will be vital to their success. A primary election in July and the general election in November bring additional opportunities to inform candidates about the many critical issues surrounding early care and education.

When the 2023 Session commences next January, Maryland will be under the leadership of a new Governor. The rosters of the Senate and the House will almost certainly have experienced record turnover, and key committee assignments and leadership positions will be in flux. Altered power dynamics and steep learning curves will make for a treacherous landscape.

In times of change and challenge, the role of a respected and resourceful advocate grows all the more critical. MFN will stand prepared to protect the needs and advance the interests of Maryland’s young children and their families.

Special thanks are due to the organizations that targeted funds for MFN’s advocacy work in 2022: The Alliance for Early Success, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Baltimore Community Foundation, the Fund for Change, the Hopewell Fund, the PNC Foundation, the Richman Family Foundation, and the Wright Family Foundation.