April 22, 2024

Health equity victories from #MDGA24!

The 2024 Maryland General Assembly wrapped up on April 8, securing some important victories for health equity in our state. The Horizon Foundation and our statewide partners were hard at work in Annapolis advocating for over a dozen pieces of legislation. In particular, we supported funding for 988 and other behavioral health services, access to health insurance for uninsured immigrants and enacting universal school meals at no cost to all students in the state, among others. The following bills supported by the Foundation passed this session and are headed to Governor Moore’s desk for his signature.

  • SB 974/HB 933 – Behavioral Health Crisis Response Services – 988 Trust Fund Fees. This bill, sponsored by two local lawmakers (Senator Guy Guzzone and Delegate Jessica Feldmark), creates a permanent funding source for the 988 Crisis Helpline through a $0.25 per month telecom fee. The bill will generate $15-20 million annually to guarantee Marylanders 24/7 365 days a year access to trained mental health counselors. Along with writing testimony and promoting an action alert to encourage residents to tell their representatives to support the bill, our president and CEO, Nikki Highsmith Vernick, testified in person with other partners about the importance of 988 to ensure everyone in our state can find mental and behavioral health support when they need it. Congratulations to our grantee Behavioral Health System Baltimore, friends at the Central Maryland Regional Crisis System, and other advocates for getting this over the finish line to ensure that 988 is here to stay!
  • SB 705/HB 728 – Health Insurance – Qualified Resident Enrollment Program (Access to Care Act). This bill allows uninsured immigrants to purchase a health coverage plan on the state’s health benefits exchange, ensuring that immigration status is no longer a disqualifier for accessing health insurance. Congratulations to our grantee CASA and friends at the Maryland Health Care for All! Coalition for leading the charge in this effort!
  • SB 35/HB 666 – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – State Supplement. This bill increases eligible individuals’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit and lowers the minimum age someone can be eligible for the program, helping to fight food insecurity.
  • SB 165/HB 204 – Education – Coaches – Mental Health Training. This bill was spearheaded by our grantee, Alston for Athletes, and requires mental health training for athletic coaches to help them recognize indicators of students’ depression, trauma, violence, youth suicide and substance abuse.
  • SB 1059/HB 1051 – Maternal Health – Assessments, Referrals, and Reporting (Maryland Maternal Health Act of 2024). This bill provides better prenatal screening and connects new mothers with community-based services, helping move the needle to improve health outcomes for all birthing people and their children.
  • SB 441/HB 545 – Janet L. Hoffman Loan Assistance Repayment Program – Nancy Grasmick Public School Professional Award – School Nurses. This bill makes school nurses eligible for an existing state student loan repayment assistance program.
  • HB 177 – Hospitals – Care of Infants After Discharge (Safe Sleep Act of 2024). This bill requires hospitals to provide safe sleep education to parents before they take their newborn home, in order to help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
  • SB 991 – Behavioral Health – Language Assistance Services Pilot Program. This bill establishes a pilot grant program for local behavioral health authorities to reimburse providers to provide language assistance services for children with limited English proficiency.
  • HB 1333 – Public Health – Maryland Commission on Health Equity and Commission on Public Health – Revisions. This bill requires the state to develop and monitor a statewide health equity plan.

Though there were some pieces of legislation we supported that failed to pass this year, including universal school meals, we are encouraged by these measures that will make a positive difference for public health in our state and will fight health inequities. THANK YOU to all of our statewide partners and community members who worked so hard this session to support a healthier and more equitable Maryland.