The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed by President Biden on March 11 has the potential to enable the nation and our state to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and to begin to dismantle the poverty that has for too long created inequity in education, work, and life for generations of families. The American Rescue Plan includes individual relief payments, temporary federal tax adjustments, and emergency and short-term supports for local government, business, and education to recover from the acute effects of the pandemic. Maryland is expected to receive more than $6.3 billion in state and local aid.
For Maryland K-12 education there is $1.95 billion, or about $2,200 per student. Funds are available to enable safer education during the pandemic and help students recover from its impact. Funds may be used for a wide variety of programs that educators have long advocated for, such as:
No less than 5% of the Rescue Plan’s education funding, $487.8 million in Maryland, must be used for programs to address pandemic-associated learning gaps by offering an extended school year, after-school activities, tutoring, summer instruction, and social emotional recovery support. At least 90% of a state’s award must go to local education agencies, which must use at least 20% of their grant for the above-mentioned kinds of programs. The proposed spending of federal funds in the Blueprint companion legislation (HB 1372/SB 965) is consistent with this federal guidance.
The American Rescue Plan includes $7 billion to close the digital divide through the purchase of devices for students and the expansion of WiFi connectivity. These funds represent the largest one-time investment on record in the Federal Communications Commission’s E-rate program with the intent of finally bridging the digital divide that has served to widen inequities throughout the pandemic.
In immediate terms, many individuals have begun to receive their $1,400 relief payments from the U.S. Treasury. Supplemental unemployment benefits of $300 per week are extended to September 6, and the National Education Association is advocating to extend those to October. The earned income tax credit (EITC) has been expanded to more people, and the child tax credit increased from $2,000 to $3,000 and includes $3,600 for children under six to help give working parents a break. Those changes may be made permanent.
In Maryland the House Appropriations Committee, which leads the work to pass Maryland’s 2022 budget, has made adjustments to the proposed budget bill to account for and have some control over the use of the federal coronavirus relief funding. Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) introduced House Bill 898, which would prohibit the governor from spending stimulus funds through budget amendment, unless that spending aligns with certain public health and policy priorities. Under the bill, Hogan would still be able to use the budget amendment process for vaccination efforts, transit operating costs, education programs, eviction assistance, and unemployment assistance. The prohibition also wouldn’t apply if the Board of Public Works determined a budget amendment was necessary to maintain public health or protect the economic welfare of the state.
All told, the American Rescue Plan will make a huge impact for the good in Maryland. Statewide, 2.5 million households will receive direct payments, the expanded EITC will benefit 255,000 workers, and state and local governments will receive around $6.3 billion, which includes approximately $2 billion allocated for K-12 schools and students. As Joe Biden would say, that’s a big deal. And it will go a long way to helping Maryland students, families, and schools bounce back from the effects and widened inequities of the pandemic.