PIC

The office of Sen. Johnny Ray Salling issued a press release last week, providing an update on recent happenings coming out of Annapolis.

The release provided additional details on what Maryland, and its jurisdictions, is receiving from the American Rescue Plan, as well as a bill passed by the State Senate that removes life without parole for juveniles convicted of committing heinous crimes. The release also provided an update on the situation with the Maryland Transportation Authority’s (MDTA) management of an increased volume of customer service inquiries.

American Rescue Plan

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, issued a statement on March 15, calling the American Rescue Plan (ARP) historic federal support to increase COVID-19 vaccine access and reduce disparities. In addition, the ARP will expand unemployment benefits through Sept. 6, and provides additional funding for child care relief, eviction and foreclosure protections and expands various income tax credits. The ARP also provides individual $1,400 economic stimulus payments, which Americans began receiving last week.

“In Maryland, the State will be receiving $3.9 billion,” the release issued by Salling’s office said. “Counties will be receiving a total of $1.2 billion and local municipalities will be receiving $1.1 billion. Baltimore County will be allocated over $160 million.”

Senate Bill 494: Juveniles convicted as adults – sentencing, limitations and reduction

The State Senate recently passed Senate Bill 494, which removes life without parole for juveniles convicted as adults for committing heinous crimes. The crimes include first-degree murder, rape and multiple murders, according to the release.

The release said that there are currently 13 juveniles in the state serving a sentence of life without parole. According to SB 494, if it were to become law, these 13 juveniles would be able to file motions to reduce the durations of their respective life sentences. The bill would prohibit courts from imposing life sentences without the possibility of parole or release for a minor.

According to the release, proponents of the bill argued it provided for restoration. Opponents of the bill argued that this bill diluted the consequences for committing heinous crimes and did not take into account the lives that were lost because of the crime. Opponents also argued that this bill would lessen other factors such as deterrence, protection of society, and justice for the victims and victim’s families.

The State Senate passed the bill 32-15. It was sent to the House of Delegates on March 19, where it is currently under judiciary review.

RELIEF Act information for businesses

According to the release, the Maryland Department of Commerce will begin distributing funds allocated by the 2021 RELIEF Act for qualified businesses, from March 30-April 6. Of these funds, $10 million will go to the Small Businesses COVID RELIEF Grant Program and the Small, Minority and Women-Owned Business Administration COVID RELIEF Program. An additional $8 million will go to the Commuter and Shuttle Bus COVID Relief Grant Program.

Each county and Baltimore City will also be eligible for funds allocated by the RELIEF Act of 2021, according to the release. A total of $500,000 will be used to support the Online Sales and Telework Assistance COVID RELIEF Grant Program. The Restaurant and Caterers COVID RELIEF Grant Program will receive $22 million. Hotels and other lodging businesses will receive $10 million through the Lodging and Accommodations COVID RELIEF Grant Program.

Additional information about these programs and how to apply can be found at www.commerce.maryland.gov.

Update on MDTA customer service backlogs

According to the release, the MDTA recently released an open letter to tolling customers, saying that it had temporarily stopped sending notices of payment from March until November last year. this action was part of a larger effort by the state to mitigate the pandemic’s financial impact on residents.

Now that notices of payments are due, the MDTA is experiencing a heavy volume of customer service inquiries and the United States Postal Service has been having difficulty delivering notices of payments due to customers in a timely manner, according to the release.

“The ongoing United States Postal Service (USPS) delays are hampering both MDTA efforts for timely delivery of tolling notices and customer efforts to pay notices on time,” the open letter said. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, the customer service call center has experienced high call volumes and wait times, and availability has varied.

“However, as MDTA transitions to the next generation tolling system with a new call center this spring, we are confident that the new call center will be better positioned to manage these unprecedented high call volumes.”

The letter can be read in its entirety at www.mdta.maryland.gov.

Senatorial scholarships

According to the release, Salling’s office is currently accepting senatorial scholarship applications for the 2021-22 school year. The scholarship is for all eligible college students living in District 6.

“Due to the sensitive nature of identifying information in various documents, applicants must mail their applications through the United States Postal Service,” the release said.

“Please note that all applications must be postmarked no later than April 1, 2021 for consideration. If you would like more information on the requirements and how to obtain an application, please contact my office via the email below.”

People with questions, concerns or ideas are encouraged to contact Salling’s office, by email at johnnyray.salling@senate.state.md.us, or by phone at (410) 841-3587.