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Bill allows unemployment benefits to expand, state also passes relief package

(March 27, 2020) Gov. Larry Hogan signed the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Protection Act of 2020 last Thursday, granting him emergency powers in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The bill allows Hogan to expand unemployment benefits to those whose employer temporarily ceased operations due to the coronavirus, those who are quarantined and those who were exposed to the coronavirus. He can also prohibit employers from firing someone for needing to isolate or quarantine. 

Under the bill, retailers cannot raise prices to profit more than 10 percent. 

On the medical side, Hogan can require health insurance companies to cover coronavirus testing and vaccine, once it becomes available. 

Delegate Wayne Hartman (R 38-C) said that he has been encouraging local and county governments to extend due dates of certain required licenses and to delay fees for property tax bills. 

“The state level has helped out as far as providing unemployment benefits, but at the same time, I think it’s important that we take whatever action that we can to allow our businesses to reopen once we’re at a safe level,” Hartman said. “The business can open so that they have the tools necessary and the financial resources necessary so that they can get those employees back and working.” 

He added that the governor has opened loan opportunities for small businesses, which are classified as under five full- and part-time employees, and manufacturers. 

While announcing the closure of all non-essential businesses on Monday, Hogan also announced an economic relief package. The Maryland Department of Commerce is offering $125 million in loans and grants to small businesses and nonprofits through the relief fund. The department is also working on creating a $5 million fund for businesses to manufacture personal protective equipment and other coronavirus related supplies to help the health care industry. 

Hogan and the Maryland Department of Labor have a combined $7 million for the COVID-19 Layoff Aversion Fund. These funds could be used for teleworking equipment, cleaning services and other strategies to prevent layoffs or closures. 

In addition, Maryland received designation from the U.S. Small Business Administration for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program. Small businesses and private nonprofits affected by coronavirus can apply for the low-interest federal disaster loan to help pay bills, payroll and accounts payable with long-term payments for up to 30 years. 

Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) said she has been helping constituents by directing their questions on carry out and delivery services for restaurants and questions on which businesses are considered essential. 

“This is the job at hand, which is to do the best job possible to serve my constituents during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Carozza said. “It’s a full court press and a full team effort to do so.” 

She commended Hogan on prioritizing a response to the coronavirus. 

“By leading at the top, it has sent a message throughout Maryland that if we work together, if we stay in compliance, that we’re going to slow down the spread of coronavirus and save lives in Maryland,” Carozza said. “All of us need to do our part.”

Elizabeth covers Worcester County issues for Ocean City Today. In 2018, she graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa with a bachelor of arts. After graduation, Elizabeth spent a year with Lutheran Volunteer Corps in Wilmington, Delaware.

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