ANNAPOLIS — A compromise on providing stimulus payments to taxpayers, some of whom are undocumented immigrants, paved the way for the Maryland General Assembly to approve Gov. Larry Hogan’s pandemic aid bill before leaving for the weekend.
In less than 20 minutes Friday, the House and Senate moved to give final approval to the $1 billion-plus RELIEF Act. The approval came after hours of back and forth on stimulus payments for low-income workers, some who are undocumented immigrants, who do not use a Social Security number to pay their taxes.
“It was a big day in many, many ways,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson. “I’d go so far as to say it was a historic day for the General Assembly. We were able to accomplish some significant work on behalf of Marylanders on many, many fronts.”
The aid package, estimated to cost between $1.1 and $1.2 billion, is the first bill passed this year by the General Assembly. Ferguson, Hogan and House Speaker Adrienne Jones all identified pandemic relief as a priority for the 2021 session. It contains a mix of provision to provide financial support to struggling Maryland residents and businesses and to exempt them from some taxes.
The bill moved at lightning speed, passing both chambers since it was the first was introduced on Jan. 20. Hogan, who had called on the legislature to quickly pass his proposal, will sign the bill on Monday.
“The RELIEF Act will deliver more than $1 billion in tax relief and economic stimulus for struggling families and small businesses,” Hogan said in a statement. “It will help Marylanders barely hanging on right now as we work to bring this global pandemic to an end.
“While Washington gears up for yet another partisan fight, here in Maryland we are once again setting an example of what effective and bipartisan leadership looks like.”
Under the agreement, the House withdrew a controversial amendment providing payments to those with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers in return for a commitment from Senate leaders to work together to pass legislation to provide a larger benefit under a program similar to the Earned Income Tax Credit. Passage of that bill could come as soon as next week. Critics of the amendment said it would have steered relief to undocumented immigrants.
“Today, we stand together in support of all taxpayers in the state of Maryland,” Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones said in a joint statement. “Next week, we will pass legislation to include every Maryland taxpayer in the Earned Income Tax Credit and send it to the governor’s desk. Maryland will have the highest Earned Income Tax Credit in the nation and every taxpaying Marylander deserves to access this benefit.
“No Marylander deserves to wonder where their next meal will come from, how to buy their child’s diapers, or how to pay for life- saving medicine — especially when they go to work every single day.”
Under the bill that passed Friday, low-wage workers under the Earned Income Tax Credit would be eligible for an increase that amounts to an additional $540 for joint filers and $300 for a single filer annually for three tax years, 2020-2022.
The agreement reached Friday for ITIN filers represents an increase of what they would have received under the failed amendment.
Instead of a one-time payment of $500 payment for a joint return and $300 for an individual, both would now get the same increases as those under the Earned Income Tax Credit for the same years.
“We worked really hard with leadership on both sides to come up with this solution, which I think is a very fair and beautiful solution that gives all taxpayers regardless of whether their status the earned income tax credit,” said Del David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery and chairman of the Maryland Legislative Latino Caucus. “It’s a win, win, win.”
The Latino caucus and the Legislative Black Caucus combined make up about two-thirds of the 99-member House Democratic Caucus. A number of members of the Black caucus also belong to the Latino caucus.
Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery and House majority leader, withdrew the amendment Friday afternoon after a number of Democrats in the Senate quietly expressed concerns about the change and potentially endangered final passage by the end of the day Friday.
Republicans in the House had said the amendment added in the 11th hour Thursday broke a deal between the House, Senate and Hogan.
The delay in Hogan signing the bill is not expected to cause a delay in payments.
“As the agency tasked with distributing RELIEF Act payments to eligible Marylanders, businesses and nonprofits as soon as the governor signs the bill, the comptroller’s office is steadfastly committed to doing so in an efficient and effective fashion,” said Comptroller Peter Franchot in a statement.
Franchot expressed disappointment that the bill was not larger and didn’t include undocumented workers but praised the compromise.