Gov. Larry Hogan painted a picture of hope in his 19-minute virtual State of the State address on Wednesday evening and said he is confident that Maryland will ultimately triumph over the hardships associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
“This crisis will not end overnight, but together we will bring it to an end,” Hogan said. “We will get our kids back to school, get people back to work, and get life back to normal once again. A better future is on the horizon where we can get back to doing the everyday things we all miss, like celebrating with friends and family at a crowded restaurant or taking our kids and grandkids to a baseball game. A better future where our kids are thriving, our communities are safer, and our economy is booming once again. We will get there, but we must continue looking out for one another and continue working together to build that better future.”
Hogan touted what he called the state’s progress in its distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, noting that 570,000 shots have been administered. However, Hogan also said that the state’s current allotment of vaccines from the federal government is insufficient and that he will continue to pressure the Biden Administration to speed up the distribution process.
But in the meantime, Hogan urged Marylanders to be patient with the vaccine distribution process.
“Getting a vaccine to everyone who wants one will be a much longer and much more difficult process than any of us would like it to be. It is going to require a great deal of patience for many months while states continue to push the federal government and the manufacturers to increase the production and to drastically increase the allocations they provide to the states.”
During Wednesday night’s speech, Hogan urged lawmakers to expeditiously approve his administration’s $1 billion stimulus package, the Relief Act. The Senate is expected to hold a final vote on the measure on Friday. If it passes, the House of Delegates is expected to consider the bill next week.
Hogan also implored county leaders to work with him to get the state’s K-12 students back to school by March 1.
“It is critical that we give our students the chance to get safely back into the classrooms. During this entire crisis, we have always followed the science, and the science is clear. Dr. Fauci, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the experts at the CDC, and the American Academy Pediatrics all agree that schools should be reopened and that they can be reopened safely.”
House Minority Leader Nic Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) in a statement on Wednesday night called on lawmakers to support Hogan’s legislative agenda and to reject proposed tax increases.
“It is time for the General Assembly to step up in a similar way and have the courage to truly help the citizens of Maryland by rejecting tax increases. This includes sustaining Governor Hogan’s veto on the Digital Ads Tax that directly impacts Maryland’s small businesses. The General Assembly must also summon the will to stand with Maryland’s taxpayers and students and not only reject the bankrupting and outdated Kirwan bill but also move to open Maryland’s schools as quickly as possible.”
But not everyone supports Hogan’s agenda and some were critical of his administration.
“We saw that we are running toward the bottom in reference to other states in our rollout of the vaccine. So I think that speaks clearly in reference to how the state of Maryland is doing in the administration. But it also tells folks nationally how Maryland is doing. So, I think that we are getting a low grade in reference to the rollout of the vaccine,” Sen. Cory McCray (Baltimore City) said.
McCray also gave the administration low marks on its management of the state’s unemployment insurance system.
“For the last 10 months, the administration has had ample time to address these issues and have failed to do so in the appropriate manner that services Maryland constituents…We definitely are getting an F in unemployment.”
Del. Stephanie Smith (D-Baltimore City) echoed similar criticisms to that of McCray on both issues.
“The vaccine distribution plan has not been as efficient or as equitable as necessary because the state punted to local jurisdictions. We need more state leadership and accountability to turn the corner on vaccine distribution. While Black and Brown residents have borne the brunt of the pandemic they are gravely underrepresented in vaccinations and this isn’t all explained away with vaccine hesitancy.
“Accessing unemployment benefits has been nothing short of traumatic for far too many Marylanders, many of whom were already our lowest compensated workers. We need a systems audit to ensure this type of breakdown never happens again.”
Maryland currently ranks 41 out of 50 among states in its distribution of the vaccine.
And tens of thousands of Marylanders who filed for unemployment last spring are still waiting for their benefits to be approved.
Many voiced their disapproval on Hogan’s Facebook page, complaining about unemployment payments, restaurants closing, and the vaccine shortage. Some even wondered why Hogan is doing a virtual address but at the same time encouraging schools to reopen.