In The News
Baltimore’s congressional delegation on Thursday announced the region will get more than $450,000 to help support minority- and women-owned businesses and create jobs. The money will come from the U.S. Department of Commerce through the Opportunity Zones Assistance Project, Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Congressmen Kweisi Mfume, John Sarbanes and Dutch Ruppersberger said in a joint news release. Local funding will also help cover some of the initiative’s costs. “As a result of systemic and entrenched injustices in our society, businesses located in underserved communities – and especially businesses owned by women and people of color – have faced tremendous barriers to accessing the financial resources and technical support they need to succeed,” the lawmakers said in the release. “With strategic investments, more minority-owned and women-owned businesses can get off the ground, prosper, and boost local economies with good-paying jobs. We will continue working to deliver federal resources that help small business owners and strengthen Maryland’s economy for generations to come.”
Several Maryland Democrats are backing a plan to help the United States confront the legacy of centuries of racist policies: a reconciliation process used by South Africa after apartheid and by dozens of other countries after civil wars and other societal schisms. The proposal would establish a federal commission on “truth, racial healing and transformation….” “This is an ‘inflection point,’” said U.S. Rep. John P. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat who is white. “I think the expressions of outrage and anguish that you’re seeing on the part of the broad public reflects that this moment is different….” The proposal to create a truth and reconciliation commission has garnered much support within the Maryland delegation. Four of the state’s eight members of Congress are cosponsoring it: Brown, Sarbanes, Trone and U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin. All are Democrats…. Sarbanes said he hopes the commission will provide the country with “truth telling” and recommendations for action. He also hopes it will help the public maintain its focus on the racial divides that are driving protests and legislative proposals. High-profile efforts to address racist policies have languished because the public loses interest after commissions and task forces complete their work, Sarbanes said. Meanwhile, Americans have developed a “culture of apologism,” in which they apologize for past actions without rectifying them, he said. A truth-and-reconciliation process — especially one that is open to the public — could help Americans better recognize and address long-standing problems, Sarbanes hopes. “The more outward-facing and public these conversations and discussions can be, the better,” Sarbanes said. “There are so many stories to be shared and told,” he said. “When those stories and experiences begin to cascade and be shared, that could be the momentum we need to get ourselves to a different place.”
Maryland congressional leaders are urging Gov. Larry Hogan to make more improvements to the state’s new Beacon One-Stop unemployment benefits website because they say constituents are not receiving their benefits in a timely manner. U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen wrote a letter to the Republican governor Tuesday, saying they hear from constituents “every day” who continue to encounter problems that are “far from resolved.” U.S. Reps. Steny Hoyer, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes, Kweisi Mfume, Andy Harris, Anthony Brown, Jamie Raskin and David Trone also signed the letter, saying that some of the problems include errors processing weekly certifications, performance issues with the state’s new Beacon One-Stop unemployment benefits website and inaccurate denials of benefits. “We have previously weighed in with both the U.S. Department of Labor and your administration to urge you to address a myriad of problems preventing or delaying workers getting their benefits,” the lawmakers said in the letter.... The delegation said in its letter that their offices send daily reports to the Maryland Department of Labor with contact information for any constituent who reached out with problems. But the delegation said the labor department has not provided “clear information” about when people will be contacted. “We are left unable to effectively respond to our constituents because the Department has been deficient in providing this information,” the letter said. In the letter, the congressional members urge Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson to assign a staff member as a liaison to help ensure timely responses between the two entities. “As the Maryland Congressional Delegation, we are committed to working with our federal, state, and local partners to deliver urgently needed relief to Marylanders who are unemployed and face economic hardships not seen since the great Depression,” the members said.
Congressional Democrats outlined their vision for sweeping police reforms on Capitol Hill Monday, following weeks of nationwide protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota…. The legislation, titled the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, includes a series of measures aimed at increasing police accountability, barring racial profiling and increasing transparency surrounding officers’ actions…. “This legislation makes it clear that police departments are serving and are answerable to all the residents in their communities, including African Americans,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland. Hoyer is a co-sponsor of the measure on the House side along with Maryland Democratic Reps. Anthony G. Brown, Kweisi Mfume, Jamie B. Raskin, John P. Sarbanes and David J. Trone. Maryland’s two Democratic senators, Benjamin L. Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, are sponsors of the Senate legislation.
Congress is making a bicameral push to modernize the Plum Book. A list of all political appointees today is only updated and published once every four years. But a new bill would require the Office of Personnel Management to post and maintain a public website with names, titles, agencies, geographic locations and other information about senior government officials. House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Congressmen Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and John Sarbanes (D-Md.) introduced the Periodically Listing Updates to Management, or PLUM Act. Delaware Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) introduced the Senate companion.
States are beginning to ease some restrictions, but each jurisdiction is developing its own metrics for when to reopen and how to keep residents safe. Most of Maryland began phase one of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s reopening plan in mid-May. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, which had higher levels of infection, entered phase one on Monday. “Because there has not been a national strategy, each of us has developed our own re-engagement strategies,” Whitmer told lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including Maryland Democratic Rep. John P. Sarbanes. Sarbanes asked the witnesses how blood serum tests for COVID antibodies are factoring into states’ response plans. Some experts say the antibody test could be key to re-opening more activities. “Obviously it has a certain allure to it, this notion that you can discover whether you got the infection and have overcome it and are now in a more robust position,” Sarbanes said. The Food and Drug Administration has approved 150 different companies to make the tests, which are supposed to measure whether someone was previously infected with the coronavirus and has antibodies against the disease in their blood. But some early antibody tests have been criticized as inaccurate and ineffective. The governors in attendance at the hearing said not enough is known yet about the efficacy of the tests, or even what level of immunity antibodies provide. “I think we are all right to be somewhat cautious about this, but it does have great promise for our strategy in response to the pandemic,” Sarbanes said. “The emphasis rightly remains on the diagnostic test, with all the different needs for supplies.”
A project to increase speeds for Amtrak and MARC trains currently slowed by aging rail infrastructure in Baltimore is getting a boost from an $8 million Federal Railroad Administration grant. The money, announced Wednesday by the agency, will help to rehabilitate and upgrade a five-mile section of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and allow trains to travel 50% faster, up from 60 mph to 90 mph. The improvements will take place between the north end of West Baltimore Station to Winans at the southern end of Halethorpe station, which serves both MARC and Amtrak trains. The work will include replacing deteriorated timber rail ties with concrete, installing heavier rail and laying new track ballast, which holds the track in place beneath moving trains…. Members of Maryland's Congressional delegation, which sent a letter of support for the project to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in December, said in a statement Thursday that the improvements "will help better ensure Amtrak’s safety and efficiency while also encouraging economic development in the area." “We were proud to fight for this funding and will continue working to secure federal investments in Amtrak to ensure it can weather COVID-19, continue serving and employing our residents, and drive economic opportunity to our state," said the delegation, which includes U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, John Sarbanes and the recently elected Kweisi Mfume.