2022 POLICY PRIORITIES
The COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing health and economic hardships it has triggered, continue to demand changes in public policies to advance social justice and equity and to overcome the impacts of systemic racism. Issues of public health and access to care, jobs, and income support to sustain all families, basic food and nutrition, and housing have reached crisis stage for many in Maryland.
A just society in Maryland, and our future growth, well-being, and economic prosperity can only be assured when everyone regardless of age, race, religion, socio-economic background, gender identity, location, or disability, can share fairly in a prosperous and inclusive economy without race-based or other structural barriers that impede them. The failure to redress the continuing effects of systemic racism, economic unfairness, and other social inequities has led to massive inequities in the COVID-19 pandemic that have affected not only people of color directly in terms of illness, death, and economic losses, but it has also had disproportionate negative impacts on nonprofits led by people of color.
Consideration of proposed policies, and review of current policy structures, should include the assessment of their direct and indirect impacts on the health, opportunities, and quality of life of all affected individuals and communities.
Provide Immediate Relief and Investment in People Who Need It Most
An economy that works for all Marylanders requires strong and intentional state attention to the harms that are deepening for low-income Marylanders and people of color during the pandemic. Even before the pandemic our revenue system and state budgets had failed to provide the true costs of vital and effective services for more than a decade, shortchanging our people and communities, and the workforce in nonprofits and government serving them. This lack of investment made the impact of the pandemic worse beyond the point of crisis for many of the people who have been on the front lines of service in the pandemic. Immediate relief and ongoing investments are needed to address these inequities being experienced by people with low incomes, communities of color, seniors, children and youth in foster care, and people living with disabilities.
Substandard wages and inadequate benefits, especially for direct care and other low-wage workers, have been a chronic problem for organizations serving the community. The tight labor market during the pandemic has exacerbated this situation. Low wages are endangering the ability of nonprofit organizations to recruit and retain a qualified workforce that provides healthcare, daycare, and 24-7 care for Maryland’s vulnerable populations. Now the workers themselves are entering these vulnerable categories, not able to put food on the table with the low wages they receive.
The first priority for Maryland’s unexpected surplus revenues, and new but uncertain federal assistance, should be correcting this ‘deficit’ of under-funded or ignored needs, including:
- Adequate funding of state services, including wages and benefits of the nonprofit workforce implementing state programs
- Increasing support for affordable childcare, both to providers and working families
- Continued implementation of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future in education, with renewed attention on the increasing Latino student body hard hit by COVID-19
- Care and treatment of people with physical or behavioral health needs or disabilities, and addressing the crisis in paratransit services
- Housing stability and opportunity for both renters and homeowners
- Sustaining increased SNAP benefits and providing free school and “out of school time” nutrition programs for all students
- Improving ‘safety net’ support for both temporary cash (“TCA”) and disability (“TDAP”) assistance recipients
- Critical physical infrastructure and environmental needs
- Digital Inclusion
- Workforce development, including transportation to access employment opportunities
- Maintaining the “Quality of Life” services and amenities that are critical to Maryland’s competitiveness and economic growth, such as vibrant arts and culture, programs that empower seniors and youth.
Specific initiatives we support include:
Make the Extension of the Earned Income Tax Credit Permanent: The economic stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic is hardest on the worst-off in our communities. Maryland’s Earned Income Tax Credit was significantly improved by legislation in 2021, but these improvements, broadening eligibility and amounts, and allowing it for those with Individual Tax Identification Numbers (“ITIN”), apply only for Tax Years 2021 and 2022. These improvements should be made permanent, particularly with respect to ITIN filers – primarily immigrants – who already file and pay Maryland income taxes.
Ensure Funding to Enable Family and Medical Leave: The need to care for new children, other family members with serious health conditions or disabilities, or themselves, often conflicts with employment for the wage earner(s) in working families. While the fate and scope of federal legislation creating such a benefit is uncertain, the creation of a Maryland ‘Family and Medical Leave’ wage replacement insurance program would significantly ease these burdens. We will join those advocating for this assistance. At the same time however, many nonprofit service providers are already facing critical staffing shortages and are at the brink of, if not already reducing the number of those they can legally serve. A state program must provide the resources to provide continuity of service and staffing levels in public program providers.
Advance Tax Fairness: The priority for any changes to our tax system should be greater fairness. This should include eliminating loopholes and tax breaks that benefit special interests and correcting our ‘upside-down’ tax code that allows the wealthiest to pay the smallest share of their income in state and local taxes.
Social Justice, Diversity and Representation
State laws and other requirements that impede economic opportunity or unduly burden those living in poverty or communities of color must be corrected. We support efforts to ‘decriminalize’ poverty and to assure meaningful implementation of criminal justice reforms recently enacted.
The membership of State boards, commissions and other appointed regulatory, study, or advisory bodies should include voices representative of the communities whose interests are affected and should also reflect the diversity of the state’s population as a whole. Nonprofit representation in particular is critical in human services, arts, and the environment.
Housing Relief and Path to Homeownership
Thousands of renters and homeowners across the state face eviction or foreclosure due to the COVID-19 pandemic or pre-existing inequities. Federal and state emergency assistance must be administered more quickly and efficiently, with easier access for people in distress. In addition, the state must assure support for necessary civil legal services for tenants.
Too many Marylanders have been priced out of opportunities for adequate and safe rental housing and potential homeownership. In the longer term, there should be state coordination of incentives and assistance for housing production with transit services and development planning to assure the availability of affordable housing and pathways to homeownership that are accessible to people who face housing instability.
Transforming and Improving Public Transit
The adequacy of transportation services and infrastructure, particularly public transit, has a substantial impact on our economy, as well as on nonprofits and the people they serve. As with other issues of opportunity or access, this too disproportionately impacts people with disabilities or disadvantaged by other social or racial inequities. From the Eastern Shore to Western Maryland, people without access to private or public transit are effectively excluded from opportunities to work, further their education, get to the doctor, access critical social services, and lead fulfilling lives.
We support the Transforming Maryland Transit agenda, and immediate action to resolve the crisis in paratransit services across the state. We must also ensure the community voice is heard in the implementation of forthcoming federal infrastructure funding.
Future transportation planning should include assessment of improving equitable access for all communities to employment centers and other essentials.
Protecting Marylanders' Health
While Maryland has taken significant steps in recent years to expand access to health care through Medicaid and other programs, COVID-19 has brought home continuing shortcomings.
Maryland must commit to the health and well-being of all its residents by providing:
- Equitable access to public health services, such as vaccines and treatments.
- Support to reduce health disparities, by race, ethnicity, disability, and location to improve health equity
- Broad investment in a coordinated community behavioral health system
- Renewal or replacement of expiring funding for Health Equity Resource Communities, the state’s reinsurance program, and youth health coverage
- Programs that promote access to healthy food and exercise,
- More effective services for those with physical or mental disabilities or illness, and
- Initiatives that ensure people with chronic conditions maintain strong health habits
Protect the Environment and it's Impact on Marylanders' Health
The quality of the environment also has a significant impact on the health of our communities. Public infrastructure and environmental hazards are typically placed in geographic proximity to communities with lower incomes and communities of color and avoided in wealthier predominantly white communities. We will support efforts to:
- Assure that decision-making for the location of potential environmental threats includes thorough health and equity assessments to avoid disproportionate health and economic impacts on communities with lower incomes and communities of color.
- Strengthen enforcement of water quality, stormwater runoff, and bay-protection regulations
- Restrict or prohibit the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides
Healthy Climate Initiative: Investing in sustainable development and growing our “green economy” has enormous potential for expanding jobs and protecting against both the impact of climate change and the health problems associated with pollution. Green investment promotes tourism and recreation and preserves the beauty and vitality of our state. We will support initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, invest in green infrastructure and energy efficient transportation, and protect households with low and moderate incomes from costs of the inevitable transition away from fossil-fuel sources of energy.
Strengthen the Partnership Between Government and the Nonprofit Community
The COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts on communities and the economy have made the effective working relationship between the nonprofit sector and government at all levels even more critical in protecting and serving public needs. Unprecedented levels of COVID-19 and economic relief are being provided by the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) and yet the vast majority of these funds remain locked inside more than 200 jurisdictions and governmental agencies in Maryland making it difficult to get the funds flowing to nonprofits serving communities.
Additional federal funding is pending, and we need to have much faster, community-responsive, and accountable processes to support nonprofits meeting emergency and long-term needs in the COVID-19 environment. We will continue and expand Maryland Nonprofits’ efforts to educate and encourage public officials to recognize nonprofits both as partners and critical resources in serving and meeting public needs.
We will continue efforts to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of state grant and contract processes for the delivery of health, education, and social services in the coming year by monitoring and supporting the work of the Maryland Efficient Grant Application Council created by legislation in 2020, and other efforts at the state and local levels to address backlogs in grants, contracts and payments caused by outdated, bureaucratic systems. We will seek legislation now to address two situations already identified by that Council:
- State procurement law and regulations require prompt payment and include overdue payment penalties – but these do not apply to reimbursements under contractual “grant agreements” for the provision of human and social services. Delays and hardships not tolerated in procurement should be similarly regulated when nonprofit providers are implementing state programs and serving state clients.
- For several years State procurement regulations in COMAR have allowed invoices and supporting documentation to be submitted for payment under procurement contracts in electronic form and presumed their completeness for payment after a reasonable period for examination. Providers of services under grant agreements should have the same option and protection from inordinate delays in the submission, review, and approval of invoices for payment.
By working together, nonprofits in Maryland are advancing and protecting the public interest of the people and communities we serve. The sector has a long history of advocating to move the needle on public policy issues. Our goal is to build on this rich tradition and broaden and strengthen the sector’s societal influence and impact.
This statement of principles guides Maryland Nonprofits’ public policy activities, its Public Policy Committee, and its staff, in working with policymakers at all levels of government, with the media, and the public. The principles do not prohibit us from engaging on other issues, rather they provide six broad policy goals for the organized nonprofit sector and specific steps that define and advance each goal.
We encourage you, the nonprofit community, to adopt or support these principles in your public policy and advocacy efforts.
Promote Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in the Consideration of Public Policies
Maryland’s future growth, well-being and economic prosperity can only be assured when everyone regardless of age, race, religion, socio-economic background, gender identity, location, or disability, can share in a prosperous and inclusive economy without race-based or other structural barriers that impede them.
Consideration of proposed policies, and review of current policy structures, should include the assessment of their direct and indirect impacts on the health, opportunities and quality of life of all affected individuals and communities.
Advocate for Sufficient Public Investment in our Communities.
The purpose of government is to provide for and promote the general welfare of the people. The nonprofit community, being dedicated to the same goal, should be a leader in advocating policies that recognize and support the importance of appropriate public investment in community programs and services.
- Government budget and fiscal policies must provide sufficient resources to equitably and adequately meet this responsibility.
- Government operations and programs should be responsive, fair, effective, efficient and accountable.
- The system of raising adequate government revenues itself must be efficient and equitable and strive for progressivity.
Strengthen the Role and Participation of the Public in their Government.
The nonprofit sector should promote structures and policies that are conducive to effective public participation in the direction and affairs of government. The process of government must be open and subject to the control of the people and their elected representatives. Free expression is a basic right, but is meaningful only if the peoples’ voice has an effective means to be heard.
- The actions and mechanisms of all branches of government should be transparent and accessible to ensure the public’s involvement and understanding.
- Policy-making should be based on the input and best interests of the public and on decisions by their elected representatives. Traditionally disenfranchised groups must be supported and empowered, and the rights of vulnerable individuals must be protected.
- Elections must be conducted in a manner to promote and permit the fullest possible participation by voters, and to assure confidence that the people’s will rather than limited interests will govern election results and the actions of those elected.
- The public’s engagement with all aspects of government process must be encouraged.
Broaden the Involvement and Increase the Effectiveness of Nonprofits as Advocates for the People and Communities they Serve.
People form and support nonprofit organizations to assist individuals, to improve their communities, and to provide a more effective voice for their concerns in the public policy arena. Advocacy is an important and natural role for nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits are often the most, or only, effective means to educate the public on the actions of government and to voice the peoples’ views and concerns on public issues. Nonprofit advocacy is critical in preserving public confidence in the policy-making process.
- The nonprofit sector and its supporters must encourage greater participation by individual organizations as policy advocates for people and communities.
- The capacity of nonprofits to educate, represent and lead their constituencies on policy issues should be strengthened.
- Nonprofits should educate and encourage the public to participate in policy advocacy through effective nonprofit and community-based efforts.
- Challenges or impediments to the advocacy role of nonprofit organizations must be opposed and overcome at all levels of government.
- The public and the nonprofit community should be effectively represented on appropriate boards, commissions, councils and similar bodies established by government.
Promote and Strengthen the Nonprofit Sector's Relationship with Government.
Nonprofit organizations have traditionally performed a significant role in providing services to the public, complementing government programs or addressing needs not met by government action. Nonprofits also play a major part in implementing government programs or providing services on behalf of government. In addition, the nonprofit sector is a significant and growing force in the state’s overall economy. Nonprofits are responsible for more than 10% of private jobs in Maryland, employing more than 250,000 workers at the end of 2016. Public policies should acknowledge and strengthen this relationship, and recognize the nonprofit sector as an important factor in the state’s economic life.
- State contracting procedures should facilitate and not impede the efficient delivery of government services provided by nonprofits, and should sufficiently fund contracts for services.
- Economic development strategies, including programs to promote business and employment development, should recognize and include the nonprofit sector and the people and communities they represent.
- Tax policies that support and promote the charitable and nonprofit sector in the delivery of services and benefits to the public must be preserved.
- Public policies should protect and promote the integrity of “charitable” and “nonprofit” activities.
Increase Philanthropy and Volunteerism in Maryland.
Public policy should recognize and support the important role of private philanthropy and volunteer service in improving the lives of Maryland citizens and the quality of life in the State.
- Existing incentives for private philanthropy should be preserved.
- New methods to effectively and efficiently promote charitable giving and volunteer service should be examined and implemented.
- Government and the business and nonprofit communities should collaborate in developing effective programs to support philanthropy and volunteerism.