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Franchot says pandemic relief checks on the way

Comptroller Peter Franchot criticized legislative leaders and the governor for not providing more pandemic relief funds. Spokesmen for Gov. Larry Hogan and Senate President Bill Ferguson shrugged off his complaints as being politically motivated and off-base.. (Bryan P. Sears)

Comptroller Peter Franchot criticized legislative leaders and the governor for not providing more pandemic relief funds. Spokesmen for Gov. Larry Hogan and Senate President Bill Ferguson shrugged off his complaints as politically motivated and off-base. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — Comptroller Peter Franchot vowed that his agency would quickly process more than $200 million in pandemic relief checks but criticized Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly for failing to help tens of thousands of others.

The state’s top tax collector, who is responsible for issuing payments called for under the new law, fired another volley of criticism at Hogan and lawmakers for not helping more people and for not increasing the size of the payments. Franchot vowed that his office would issue the checks quickly with up to 98 percent of individual stimulus payments paid out no later than Monday.

Franchot, speaking to reporters Tuesday, said he understood the need to get payments out and announced that nearly 267,000 individuals who qualified for the Earned Income Tax Credit have already been sent electronic payments totaling $113.6 million.

“Many will see these payments in their bank accounts this week. I’m talking Friday,” said Franchot. “That’s almost instantaneous money going into their accounts.”

Franchot also expects to complete printing of nearly 149,000 paper checks worth $61.7 million for individuals who do not have accounts that can receive an electronic transfer.

“Hopefully the paper checks that we print and put into the mail by Friday or at the latest Saturday or Monday, hopefully those will take not two, three or four weeks to be delivered by the United States Postal Service,” said Franchot. “But we’re not in charge of delivering the mail. We’re in charge of getting the checks into the mail.”

However, nearly 6,600 people could be delayed in receiving a payment because the comptroller’s office does not have a bank account number or a verified mailing address. Franchot said taxpayers can update their information on a special page on the comptroller’s website dedicated to pandemic relief payments.

Franchot’s office, under the new law is responsible for sending out payments to individuals as well as loan and grant payments and refunds of income taxes that may have been paid since last weekend on unemployment benefits.

“So it is a big complicated group of payments that we are making as the comptroller’s office,” said Franchot.

But Franchot vowed that almost 98% of all relief payment “will be processed by this office by Friday.”

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.

There are also provisions to provide businesses and nonprofits with an additional $100 million in financial relief; forgiveness of some state loans made to businesses last spring; up to $9,000 in sales tax payments that some businesses can keep over the next three months; as well as housing and utility assistance.

Under the compromise reached late Friday, 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.

Franchot, who repeated and disdainfully referred to the legislation as “this so-called relief act,” leveled criticism at Hogan and Democratic lawmakers for failing to include 86,000 low-income immigrant workers even though the General Assembly is expected to pass such a bill perhaps as soon as Friday.

“While I applaud the House and the Senate for improving the governor’s bill, I feel very strongly that it falls far, far short of the goal of genuine relief,” he said.

“Tens of thousands of immigrant families who pay more than $100 million last year in state taxes and local taxes along, they are left out completely because the governor chose to use the Earned Income Tax Credit,” said Franchot.

 

Hogan, Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones, signed the $1.2 billion package into law Monday. Lawmakers passed the compromise package less than a month after Hogan sent a bill to the General Assembly.

The Republican and Democratic leaders all identified financial aid for those most affected by the coronavirus pandemic as a top priority for the 2021 session. All three hailed the lightning speed at which it became law as a symbol of bipartisan efforts.

“Last week, Democrats in the General Assembly passed into law significant legislation to lower prescription drug costs, once-in-a-generation education reform paid for by taxes on big tech, criminal justice reform, billions in new school construction and so much more,” said Jake Weissmann, a spokesman for Ferguson. “When it came to helping those Marylanders, the comptroller was silent and nowhere to be found. At a time that Democrats and Republicans are united around the RELIEF Act to help people immediately, we encourage the comptroller to focus on implementing these relief programs urgently.”

Franchot, who has never had a great relationship with Democrats who lead the House and Senate, has assumed an increasingly sharp and oppositional tone towards Hogan. The two were once known for their bipartisan backslapping, something that has lessened as Hogan nears the end of his second and final term and Franchot has declared his intent to succeed the two-term Republican.

“We recognize the comptroller is a candidate for governor, and we’ve learned to ignore his political statements while we focus on saving lives and bringing this pandemic to an end,” said Michael Ricci, a Hogan spokesman.
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