Gov. Wes Moore on Tuesday signed into law the first measures of his administration’s “all-out assault” on child poverty in Maryland.
Moore, a Democrat, said a pair of tax credits — part of the Family Prosperity Act of 2023 — will benefit at least 34,000 children in the state.
The governor also signed a bill to raise Maryland’s minimum hourly wage to $15 beginning Jan. 1. He said that roughly 126,000 Maryland children live in households where the main breadwinner makes less than that.
“The face of child poverty is universal and we refuse to look away,” Moore said Tuesday as he stood at a podium with legislative leaders before signing the first batch of bills into law following the end of the legislative session late Monday.
Before signing the bills, Moore turned to the audience to acknowledge his mother, who as an immigrant single parent raised three children, not working a job that provided benefits until the future governor was 14 years old.
Moore said that, growing up, he saw the difference that a small amount of extra money could make for a family.
The Family Prosperity Act makes permanent a temporary expansion of an income tax credit for low- to moderate-income households.
Since 2021, families who qualify for a federal earned income tax credit have been able to receive a 45% state match, more than the 28% they were previously granted. The larger match was set to expire in the tax year that began Jan. 1.
The measure also raises the qualifying income for the state’s child tax credit from $6,000 or less to $15,000 or less.
Households with an income of $15,000 or less with a child who is disabled and younger than 17 years old or a child younger than 6 can claim a $500 credit for each child.
The tax cuts are expected to decrease state revenue by $172 million in the next fiscal year.
“We need to end the days where people who are working, and in some cases working multiple jobs, are still living at or below the poverty line,” Moore said.
Maryland is one of 30 states and Washington, D.C., that has a minimum wage higher than the federal rate of $7.25 per hour, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank based in the district.
Maryland’s minimum wage for businesses with 15 or more employees is $13.25 per hour, and it’s $12.80 for those with fewer than 15 workers, according to the Department of Legislative Services.
The minimum wage was scheduled to hit $15 per hour on Jan. 1, 2025 for large businesses, and on July 1, 2026 for small businesses.
Moore sought to tie future wage increases to the Consumer Price Index, which measures how the prices that consumers pay change over time, but lawmakers removed that part of the measure before approving the bill.
To pay for the new minimum wage, state spending will increase by $109 million each of the next two fiscal years, according to the bill.
The state’s budget for the next fiscal year is $63 billion.
On Tuesday, Moore — sitting beside House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson — signed bills requiring the state to investigate unlicensed assisted living facilities, extending a reporting deadline for the Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and allowing liquor sales at golf simulator facilities in Frederick County, among others.
Lawmakers have concluded a session in which they determined how to license and tax businesses that can begin selling recreational marijuana July 1, passed stricter gun laws, increased access to gender-affirming care and voted for a ballot question that will determine whether the right to abortion is enshrined in the Maryland Constitution.
“What we’ve done together this session will define a generation,” said Jones, a Democrat representing Baltimore County.
Jones said that this generation has fewer reproductive rights than their parents, has seen the Archdiocese of Baltimore systematically cover up decades of child sexual abuse and have witnessed lives ruined by imprisonment for simple cannabis possession.
Young people, she said, have experienced mass shooting after mass shooting and have experienced continued attacks because of race and gender.
“This generation is demanding more from their government,” Jones said. “What we’ve done this session shows that Maryland leaders are listening.”