(Annapolis, Feb. 7) – One month into Maryland’s 2020 legislative session, Catholic Charities colleagues and clients crowded into a conference room in Annapolis’ Miller Senate Office Building to advocate for the organization’s key priorities, raise their voices for systemic policy changes, and work for justice.

“Catholic Charities has been in Annapolis for half a century,” said Executive Director Bill McCarthy, before explaining key priorities for the session. “Everything we do down here is focused on policies and the impact that they have on our clients, our neighbors, and the individuals they accompany.”

Dozens of state legislators and legislative staff joined Catholic Charities representatives for lunch and conversation, learning more about the organization’s work.

Legislative priorities

Revisions to Temporary Cash Assistance
Tracking discussions around, and weighing in on proposed changes to, publicly funded programs such as and Temporary Cash Assistance is vital to Catholic Charities’ clients and communities.

Imagine losing a significant portion of your family’s income because your bus broke down and you missed two hours of work, or because you missed a timesheet deadline. Under current state Temporary Cash Assistance program practices, failure to comply with a work requirement for any reason can lead whole families—not just adults—to lose benefits for up to 30 days.

Catholic Charities is working for a change that would split the worker’s portion of the benefit from the family’s. While the cut will still affect household income, the change would help ensure children have some financial support at home.

“If a parent is noncompliant, the entire benefit is potentially eliminated or suspended,” McCarthy said. “We believe the just thing is children should not be punished for the challenges or mistakes that a parent makes.”

Catholic Charities is also advocating, as it has for a decade, to increase the percentage of the state’s minimum living level on which TCA is based. That percentage has stood at 61 percent since 1996. In a bill before legislators this session, the percentage would increase to 71 percent, incrementally, over the next five years.

Revision to Child Support Guidelines
It may seem counterintuitive to set new child-support orders at a lower amount for low income noncustodial parents. But national and state data show that higher orders are more likely to result in complete default. It’s better for children if the amounts are set lower.

“The noncustodial parent is more likely to pay it, and the child is better in the long run,” explained Catholic Charities Advocacy Director Regan Vaughan.

Paid Family Leave
It can be hard on anyone to care for vulnerable family members or tend to serious health conditions – whether that involves nurturing a newborn or recovering from knee surgery.

With a coalition of advocates, Catholic Charities is supporting a new way for Maryland workers to afford those challenges. The “Time to Care” proposal would create a state social-insurance program to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave to eligible employees for military deployment, after the birth or adoption of a child, or to tend to their own or a family members’ significant health challenges. The program would cover up to 90 percent of income for the lowest wage earners, and up to 50 percent for those at higher income brackets.

“For our most vulnerable clients, the ability to care for a sick family member, or care for themselves, without losing compensation is very important,” explained McCarthy.

The budget
This year, the organization is paying particular attention to proposed changes to the Medicaid provider rates. In January, Gov. Larry Hogan proposed a budget that would cut in half a planned increase in that rates – from 4 percent to 2 percent. The change would hurt a wide spectrum of Catholic Charities programs, including those related to behavioral health, supports for those with disabilities, and seniors. Catholic Charities receives 55 percent of its budget through Medicaid, part of a total 75 percent through public sources.

“This affects Catholic Charities across the board,” said Vaughan. “Providers cannot continue providing services under the current rate structure.”

During the three-month General Assembly session, Catholic Charities will track about 400 of the approximately 3,000 bills expected to be introduced. Legislative staff focuses on politically viable bills for which it can provide unique perspective in alignment with the organization’s mission and values so that clients and communities can be better served.

“Catholic Charities, like most of us legislators, doesn’t measure political parties… or political affiliation,” said State Senator Edward R. Reilly. “If someone shows up at your door, you treat them very respectfully, and I thank you for that.”