As a new state legislator, a goal of mine for this first session is to quickly learn to be an effective lawmaker and make a positive difference in the lives of Marylanders, preferably in a way that doesn’t add to our already tight state budget. Many times, this means supporting legislation of more seasoned lawmakers and adding my input to the change that they lead.
So, I’m proud to share that I’ve introduced my first bill, HB-226, which builds off the successful 2016 legislation sponsored by former Senator Rich Madaleno and Delegate Brooke Lierman and set a minimum of $30 per month in assistance for to those 62 years old or older. My bill aims to include the disabled in this $30 minimum, as it’s unfair for the disabled not to have parity in our laws.
For background, there are nearly 96,0000 Marylanders who are not able to work due to disability. Many depend on Maryland’s Food Supplement Program, often called food stamps, to buy staple groceries. It may shock you to know that currently the disabled in our state can receive as little as $15 per month in food assistance. In comparison, the USDA reports that the average monthly grocery bill nationally is around $300 per adult.
My introduction of HB-226 is the direct result of a Montgomery County resident’s personal experience and his contact with my office. During the first week of session, Montgomery County resident Brian Whiting shared with me in a Facebook message that his $15 allotment does not even cover a week’s worth of his food – and frankly, I doubt it would cover any of our grocery bills. Brian’s diabetic neuropathy has made his computer career a thing of the past and now he is forced to navigate a world with diminishing resources like so many of our neighbors.
We cannot in good faith expect Brian, or anyone else in our state, to live on $15 of food assistance per month, especially when the disabled are three times as likely to be food insecure.
To close this gap, I introduced HB 226, which helps our disabled neighbors live with dignity by ensuring they are eligible for $30 minimum monthly allotment of food stamps. Without this updated minimum, many disabled Marylanders, including our veterans, will continue to have to choose between buying food or the medicine they need to survive.
No one could think that giving the disabled $30 in food assistance per month will make them rich, nor will it be enough alone to cover all groceries. But, every little bit helps, especially to those who are precluded from working.
Since the 1980s, food assistance programs have gotten a bad rap, but in 2019 many of the old claims just don’t ring true (and I’d argue most were rooted in racism not fact). Food stamp fraud, either misrepresenting income or reselling allotments, in Maryland is nominal, at less than one percent annually. Since food assistance funds are spent directly at local grocery stores and farmers markets, not elsewhere, the bill actually helps our local Maryland stores and economy. Finally, there are minimal administrative costs for this bill since most people who receive food supplements already get them via an electronic benefit transfer. We would simply add onto a system that already exists and functions successfully.
My intent with sharing this story is to encourage UpCounty residents to reach out to my office with their questions and concerns. Good government starts and ends with community engagement, and I’m all ears when it comes to what’s on UpCounty residents’ mind. Please email me directly at Lesley.Lopez@house.state.md.us or call 301-858-3021 if there is an issue you want to discuss.
Also, on Saturday, Feb. 23, I’m having an informal meet up at the Dunkin Donuts at 19781 Frederick Road in Germantown. From 9:00 am to 11:00 am, stop by for a cup of coffee and a treat. I’ll be sharing the latest on what’s happening in Annapolis and taking suggestions on what legislation should be prioritized. Looking forward to seeing you.
About the Author: Delegate Lesley Lopez (D) is a Germantown resident and is serving her first term in the Maryland House of Delegates representing District 39 - Germantown/Gaithersburg/Montgomery Village. She was elected in November 2018. She is the Chief Communications Officer for Run For Something, which recruits and supports young progressives running for state and local office. She is also the former Director of Communications for the National Immigration Forum and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Her office can be reached at Lesley.Lopez@house.state.md.us or call 301-858-3021.