2021 Key Victories

HB 1300 “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future – Implementation” (Veto Overide)

After a long, arduous gestation, the “Blueprint” became law when the General Assembly overrode a gubernatorial veto. With its vast expansions of public pre-K, the Maryland Infants and Toddlers Program, professional development, and the networks of Judy Centers and Family Support Centers, the “Blueprint” represents a triumph of MFN’s efforts in these areas. It is arguably the State’s most important piece of legislation in decades.

HB 776 “Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (IECMHC) – Study and Report”

Piloted in the early 2000s, the IECMHC Project has continued to document extraordinary results, and its focus on preventing expulsions from child care has taken on even greater importance as pre-K expands. While demand for services has steadily climbed, capacity remains fixed at the level of 15 years ago. HB 776 mandates a thorough program evaluation, including most significantly a gap analysis. The results, due in late 2021, will likely fuel an advocacy campaign for increased funding.

HB 944 / SB 711 “Growing Family Child Care Opportunities Pilot Program – Established”

Building on a promising effort begun by the Montgomery County Child Care Resource Center, this bill will establish three pilot sites to increase the supply of Family Child Care, particularly in underserved communities. Hallmarks of the multi-lingual program will include support for prospective providers as they navigate the regulatory process and work with organizations that support women- and minority-owned businesses to help implement best business practices and achieve financial sustainability.

Budget

In a year when advocates feared the erosion of recent gains, the Governor’s proposed FY 2022 budget instead increased allocations for early childhood by $111 million, extending investments in child care subsidy, pre-K, and other programs.

Unfinished Business

HB 375 / SB 211 “Labor and Employment – Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program – Establishment (Time to Care Act of 2021)”

Introduced for a third consecutive year, the Time to Care Act made notable progress but sadly fell short of success. Opposition from some elements of the business community vehemently protested the presumed effects on their bottom lines at a time of economic uncertainty, although ironically, the pandemic has itself spotlighted this critical need.

public policy report april 2021

Rising from his desk on the cluttered Senate floor, surrounded on three sides by walls of Plexiglas, a veteran lawmaker struggled to catch the eye of the presiding officer, whose dais stood several cubicles away. “It’s like we’re legislating from separate phone booths,” the senator groused when finally recognized, “if anybody remembers what those are anymore.”

That sense of dislocation—spatial and temporal, both in the moment and in relation to the “old normal”— pervaded the 2021 Session of the General Assembly. As usual, the Session brought its own set of complicated and controversial policy issues, but these unfolded in a land- and cyber-scape where established routines were distorted beyond recognition. With advocates and the public at large barred from the State House and surrounding offices, basic rules of engagement were thrown into flux. New procedures, once established and partly grasped, would shift shape with little warning. Days and weeks were marked with internet misadventures and communications snafus far more complex than the “you’re on mute” variety.

Silver linings appeared, too. Only recently has the General Assembly been dragged into the new millennium from a technological standpoint, and the 2021 Session accelerated the process dramatically. Advocates and other Marylanders, freed from the need to trek to Annapolis for lengthy and wildly unpredictable meetings and hearings, could for the first time upload written testimony and even testify orally on a remote basis (although the witness selection process remained less than inclusive). Streaming brought inner deliberations rarely seen by the public into the sunlight as never before.

For all that was refreshing or barely tolerable about pandemic-related protocols and procedures, the Session ran its full 90-day course—by no means a foregone conclusion when it commenced. Absent the human dimension, as exhilarating at times as it can be frustrating at others, the Session clearly seemed more grueling to Annapolis regulars. (“All the cruddy stuff times ten, but none of the fun,” as one lobbyist put it.) And yet the General Assembly adjourned with legislative achievements in police reform, juvenile justice, COVID relief, health care, and voting rights that would be remarkable in any year.

Throughout, MFN pursued policies to ensure that young children have strong families, high-quality learning environments, and champions for their interests. Below are some of the highlights.

Key Victories

HB 1300 “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future – Implementation” (Veto Override)

After a long, often arduous gestation, the “Blueprint” became law in February, when the General Assembly overrode Governor Hogan’s veto of the legislation. Based on the recommendations of the blue-ribbon Kirwan Commission, the Blueprint will institute sweeping reforms in the K-12 education system and lead to dramatic strides in early care and education. Its key early childhood provisions include a vast expansion of public pre-K in schools and child care programs, enhanced professional development for providers, new funding for the Maryland Infants and Toddlers Program, and the creation of 135 new Judy Centers and 30 new Family Support Centers over the next 10 years. The “Blueprint” represents a triumph of MFN’s efforts in these areas and is arguably the State’s most important piece of legislation in decades.

budget

In a year when advocates feared the erosion of recent gains through emergency cost containment measures and retrenchment, the Governor’s proposed FY 2022 budget instead increased allocations for early childhood by $111 million, extending investments in child care subsidy as well as in pre-K expansion and other programs prioritized by the “Blueprint” legislation (see above). Given that he had previously vetoed the Blueprint, this increase could be construed as a reversal of expectations. Rather, MFN considers it a result of years of effective nonpartisan advocacy and mountains of evidence demonstrating the profound benefits of high-quality early education for children, their families, and society as a whole.

SB 218 “Income Tax – Child Tax Credit and Expansion of the Earned Income Credit”

Although initially crafted as a narrow attempt to offset some negative consequences of prior federal tax action, this bill became a vehicle for a much more substantial tax initiative as part of the General Assembly’s effort to provide economic relief for low-income families in the wake of COVID-19. As enacted, the legislation extends Maryland’s Earned Income Tax Credit—particularly beneficial for filers with children— to many taxpayers who are excluded by federal requirements (including immigrants who use cannot get a Social Security number) and creates a modest Child Tax Credit for very low-income families raising children with disabilities.

child care supports

Two bills unlikely to garner headlines may nonetheless help Maryland make greater strides in the availability, affordability, and quality of child care. Both reflect a longstanding public policy strategy of MFN’s: identify emerging problems, propose solutions, test models for achieving those solutions, and expand the effective models statewide.

HB 776 “Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation (IECMHC) – Study and Report” seeks to build on the prior results of one such success that led to the establishment of the IECMHC Project.

Piloted in the early 2000s and rigorously evaluated by Georgetown University before being expanded statewide, the IECMHC Project has continued to document extraordinary results. Its focus on preventing expulsions from child care has taken on even greater importance as pre-K expands, the field grapples with the effects of implicit bias, and calls mount to eliminate early childhood expulsions altogether. IECMHC is in some ways a victim of its great success—demand for the services has steadily climbed, but capacity and resources remain fixed at roughly the same level as 15 years ago. HB 776 mandates a through program evaluation, including most significantly a gap analysis to quantify the need for services versus their availability. The results, due in late 2021, will likely fuel an advocacy campaign for increased funding.

HB 944 / SB 711 “Growing Family Child Care Opportunities Pilot Program – Established”

This will attempt to follow the proven pattern. Family child care (FCC) is a necessary or preferable option for many parents due to cost, geographic proximity, hours of availability, and cultural or linguistic concerns. And yet, the number of FCC programs in Maryland has declined precipitously over the past two decades—from approximately 12,500 in 1996 to 5000 in 2020. Among the factors in this decline are barriers to entering the field and surviving as micro-businesses.

Building on a very promising effort begun by the Montgomery County Child Care Resource Center, this bill will establish three pilot sites to increase the supply of FCC, particularly in underserved areas. Hallmarks of the program will include: outreach and recruiting through multi-lingual means; direct support for prospective providers as they navigate the regulatory process; technical assistance and peer-to- peer mentoring for new and existing providers to achieve quality benchmarks; and work with organizations that support women- and minority-owned businesses to help implement best business practices and achieve financial sustainability. The pilot sites will each receive $150,000 in State funds subject to a local match and annual reporting requirements. The program and its funding will terminate as of June 2024—unless, as advocates anticipate, the results are compelling enough to warrant expansion.

unfinished business

HB 375 / SB 211 “Labor and Employment – Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program – Establishment (Time to Care Act of 2021)”

Introduced for a third consecutive year, the Time to Care Act made notable progress but sadly fell short of success. It sought to establish 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. The U.S. is the only industrialized country that lacks a paid family and medical leave program, and Maryland would have become the tenth state to establish one. Again this year, no final vote on the legislation was taken. Opposition from some elements of the business community vehemently protested the presumed effects on their bottom lines at a time of economic uncertainty, although ironically, the pandemic has itself spotlighted this critical need.

looking ahead

A year from now, we can hope that the worst public health threats posed by COVID-19 will have passed. But in at least some ways, we will still be reckoning with the pandemic’s impact on the State’s budget, economy, and workplaces. Some of the protocols and procedures adopted under duress in the State House and the General Assembly’s Committee rooms will undoubtedly become part of the “new normal.” In Annapolis and around the State, what has been lost, and what gained? The answers aren’t likely to come quickly.

In the meantime, Maryland’s young children and families continue facing challenges no one would have imagined at the beginning of 2020, and child care providers are struggling for their survival at a time when they will be utterly indispensable to economic recovery. Amid all these uncertainties, federal COVID relief measures are bringing Maryland enormous infusions of new resources dedicated to early care and education—and an unprecedented opportunity to indeed “build back better.” MFN must redouble its public policy efforts protect and advance all these interests.

Special thanks are due to the organizations that targeted funds for MFN’s advocacy work in 2021: The Alliance for Early Success, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Baltimore Community Foundation, the Fund for Change, the Hopewell Fund, the PNC Foundation, and the Wright Family Foundation.