On Friday, the Maryland General Assembly passed the RELIEF Act, and the governor signed it on Monday. As its name suggestions, the RELIEF Act provides $1.5 billion in much needed relief for individuals, families, and businesses suffering from the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Provisions of the RELIEF Act include:

  • Direct stimulus payments of up to $500 for Marylanders who qualified for the Earned Income Tax Credit in 2019;
  • Unemployment insurance payments are exempt from state income tax;
  • Maryland becomes the highest state in the nation for its earned income tax credit
  • Small businesses can keep sales tax collections of up to $9000 over 3 months;
  • Helps up to 100,000 small businesses & nonprofits to defer paying unemployment insurance taxes until the first three months of 2022 to help cash flow;
  • Forgives MD taxes on COVID loans and grants;
  • Minority and Small Business Loans (MSBDFA): Converts up to $50,000 in Equity Participation Program loans to grants;
  • $1,000 Grants for individuals with UI applications in adjudication at least 30 days;
  • Funds to hire additional UI caseworkers;
  • Money for Temporary Disability Assistance Program, food banks, utility assistance, and much more.

Many of us were concerned that taxpaying immigrants who use Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) to pay their taxes instead of a Social Security Number were excluded from the direct payments in the RELIEF Act, as were some U.S. citizen spouses of ITIN holders. I and others felt that we could not support a bill that pitted our most vulnerable residents against each other for much needed relief. Thankfully, the Maryland General Assembly leadership found a solution to provide much needed relief to ITIN holders as well as all Marylanders in need.

ITIN holders will still not be eligible for the direct payments under the RELIEF Act, however, many of the other provisions in the RELIEF Act will help immigrants. But more importantly, under a bill we intend to pass this week, low-income ITIN holders will, for the first time, be eligible to apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit on their tax return. Maryland will be one of only three states to allow this.

Making ITIN holders eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit will provide greater relief than the direct payments. But more importantly, it will be a systemic change. This moment of crisis, and the voices of advocates and legislators who stood strong in support of immigrants, have brought us the ability to achieve this systemic change. The eligibility will sunset in three years, so we will need to work to ensure that it’s extended indefinitely before it sunsets, but having once been enacted, it will be much more difficult to allow it to sunset.

In voting for the RELIEF Act, I followed the lead of the Latino Caucus. If the Latino Caucus had not approved the agreement, I would have stood with them in their position.