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    Catholic Voice Update | March 2, 2021

    BOOST Applications May Open Soon

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    While we continue to advocate with the General Assembly to expand funding for the popular BOOST scholarships (thank you to everyone who sent our BOOST action alert!), we also anticipate that the Maryland State Department of Education will open up the application process as early as this week. They have done this in prior years, even before the budget was set, so applications could be received and reviewed in time for parents to enroll their children in a school.

    “Maryland families want and need more funds for BOOST,” said Maryland Catholic Conference Deputy Director Garrett O’Day, the lead BOOST advocate for the Conference. “It is a very small part of the overall budget, but one that has an incalculable impact on the lives of low-income children and families by empowering them with educational options they did not have before. BOOST is an important complement to the world-class education system Maryland is building, particularly for low-income and minority kids.”

    BOOST recipients include children from 21 of 24 Maryland counties. The average household income for a BOOST family is under $36,000. 


    Featured Legislation

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    The Maryland General Assembly’s session is more than halfway over and days are packed with hearings.

    Prenatal Grant Program Hearing

    Last week, Melissa Pelaez, a parishioner of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Highlandtown, provided compelling personal testimony regarding the benefits of prenatal care in a hearing for Senate Bill 777, the Maryland Prenatal and Infant Care Grant Program Fund, which we highlighted last week.

    This bill would expand funding for prenatal care and allow federally qualified health centers, such as Catholic hospitals, to participate in the grant program. As many as 30 percent of women in Maryland receive inadequate prenatal care according to recent data, with those numbers much worse for Black and Latina mothers.

    Mrs. Pelaez became pregnant after marrying in 2016. She found a Johns Hopkins prenatal mobile clinic near her that offered pregnancy testing and prenatal care, and she applied for financial aid. “It gave me peace of mind because it was something I didn’t have to worry about,” she said. The program included a range of services, including wellness checks and information on what mothers will need, from diapers to car seats, to help mothers and babies thrive.

    Juvenile Justice Reform

    Senate Bill 853, sponsored by Senator Jill Carter (D-41) and supported by the Conference, would enact new measures to shift the focus on juveniles accused of crimes from retribution to restorative justice. Among the bill’s proposals, the minimum age to file criminal charges would be raised to age 13. The bill also provides for the use of alternative remedies and rehabilitation, and the development of model policies for youth diversion. In the House of Delegates, the bill (HB 1187) is sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger (D-46).

    Legal Representation for Immigrants

    The Conference is submitting testimony in support of House Bill 750. “Our legal system rests upon the principle that everyone is entitled to due process of law and a meaningful opportunity to be heard,” said MJ Kraska, associate director for social and economic justice advocacy.

    He notes that this bill would ensure a right to legal representation in some immigration proceedings and calls for a coordinator in the Attorney General’s office to manage resources and services, ensuring covered individuals have this access. The coordinator also would designate community-based organizations to provide outreach and education.

    Testimony on bills is posted after the hearings here.


    On Pilgrimage for Women's History Month

    Maryland may be a small state, but it is one with a deep history of saintly women. The first saint born in the United States, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, ministered here, as did Servants of God Mother Mary Lange and Mary Virginia Merrick, both of whom are in the canonization process.

    Why not make a mini-pilgrimage (in-person or virtually) to the sites where they prayed, during Women’s History Month? (Please check websites before visiting regarding access, or to make a virtual pilgrimage.)

    Stop 1: St. Mary’s Spiritual Center & Historic Site, 600 N. Paca St., Baltimore

    “Paca Street,” as it’s known, is not only the headquarters for the Sulpician priests and home of the original St. Mary’s Seminary, but the birthplace of three congregations of women religious: Sisters of Charity; Oblate Sisters of Providence; and the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Mich. and Pa.).

    The existing Seton House was Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s first Maryland home, in 1808, and the place where she decided to take vows as a religious. The historic church was the faith home to Servant of God Mother Mary Lange. A Caribbean immigrant and woman of color, she was encouraged in her deep faith by Sulpician Father James Joubert to found the first religious order for women of African descent, the Oblate Sisters of Providence, in 1829.

    Stop 2: National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Emmitsburg

    It was here after her year in Baltimore that Elizabeth Ann Seton founded the Sisters of Charity, the first religious order for women religious in the United States, and the Catholic school that became the seed for Catholic education in the US. The extensive shrine includes a Basilica with her tomb, museum and historic buildings from her life in Emmitsburg.

    Stops 3 & 4: St. Paul, Ellicott City, and Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Washington, DC (on the DC-MD line)

    Servant of God Mary Virginia Merrick, founder of the National Christ Child Society, has ties to Ellicott City and Chevy Chase. “Miss Mary” spent summers at a family home in Ellicott City, where a fall as a teenager in 1880 resulted in lifelong paralysis. Her disability never stopped her from a life dedicated to helping children. A window at St. Paul, Ellicott City, was commissioned by her in memory of her father. As an adult, she lived in Chevy Chase and attended daily Mass at Blessed Sacrament, where she sat near the statue of the Blessed Mother that is at the front right of the church. (Please check parish websites before visiting in person due to COVID restrictions.)


    Join Sr. Marilyn Bouchard in Prayer

    The Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary in Salisbury also has had Maryland roots from its founding in 1974. This week the superior, Sr. Marilyn Bouchard, LSJM, leads us in praying for our state elected officials. The sisters’ ministry, The Joseph House, provides critical support for people in need on the Eastern Shore, including financial assistance with utilities, rent, etc.; food pantry; soup kitchen (suspended during COVID); and a day shelter and other programs for the homeless.

    Join Sr. Marilyn by clicking the image above or visiting our prayer page, where you can access all of the video prayers from this session and read or download the prayer  (in English and Spanish). The prayer also is posted on Twitter and Facebook (@mdcatholic) every Monday at 10 a.m.


    Of Note

    In the news: Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Highlandtown neighborhood of Baltimore was featured in the Baltimore Sun last week. The parish, led by its pastor, Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Bruce Lewandowski, CSsR, is on the front lines of the COVID vaccine effort within the immigrant community, and the site of a pop-up vaccination clinic.

    National advocacy alert: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued an action alert regarding the COVID relief bill before the US Senate. The House version would allow COVID funds to be used for abortion. The alert asking that the Hyde Amendment policy preventing this be included in the legislation. You can send an alert here

    Prayers: Please keep in prayer the adults coming into the Catholic Church at Easter. Lent marks the final stage in their journey. The Archdiocese of Washington announced that more than 800 people are preparing to become Catholic during the Easter Vigil; many more also will in the (arch)dioceses of Baltimore and Wilmington.


    JOIN THE CATHOLIC ADVOCACY NETWORK

    The Catholic Advocacy Network gives you a voice on important issues in Maryland. Learn more and join our network.

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    Catholic Voice Update | Feb. 23, 2021

    Maryland state capitol

    Feb. 23, 2021 | Annapolis, MD


    We had a great Advocacy Day last week! Thank you to everyone who participated. The messages you sent to your legislators matter – and we had a lot of messages sent!

    If you did not have a chance to participate or maybe missed one of the alerts, it’s not too late. Use and share the links below with friends, other school parents, or parishioners whom you think would be interested. It is important that the legislators continue to hear from us.

    Learn about the issues (includes links for the three action alert)

    Send an alert:


    Featured Issues

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    Among the bills the Maryland Catholic Conference is providing testimony on this week:

    Public Health - Maryland Prenatal and Infant Care Grant Program Fund
    (SB 0777 | HB 1349)

    As many as 30% of Maryland women receive inadequate – or no - prenatal care. The implications can be devastating, with higher infant mortality, low birth weight and other serious health concerns that put a baby and mom at risk. Low-income, minority and immigrant mothers and their children are the most affected.

    This bill would expand the Maryland Prenatal and Infant Care Grant Program Fund to $1.1 million in 2023, and then by $1 million per year for the following two years. It also would open eligibility for the grants to a wider range of organizations, including Catholic healthcare systems, hospitals and clinics. Currently, only counties may receive the grants.

    “Providing grants to qualified prenatal care providers will ensure the health and safety of mothers and babies who are at risk throughout Maryland,” said Molly Sheahan, associate director for respect life advocacy.

    Foreclosure Relief Act of 2021 (HB 1009 | SB 0724)

    COVID-19 has hit a lot of families hard and, for many, their home is at risk due to financial loss. This legislation would help hold off foreclosure against families in financial straits when there is a “state of emergency and catastrophic health emergency.” Certain conditions would have to be met and a borrower would need to submit a request to the loan servicer to qualify.

    “This can really help families who have been financially hit as a result of the pandemic. Maryland needs a fairer eviction process that focuses on stability, instead of housing loss,” said MJ Kraska, associate director for social and economic justice.

    Stimulus Payments for Workers with an ITIN (SB 218)

    The Maryland Catholic Conference testified in support of Senate Bill 218, which provides a refundable child tax credit for low-income families (federal adjusted gross income under $6,000). That bill is now before the House of Delegates’ Ways and Means Committee, with a Senate amendment that includes tax relief for low-income individuals and families who file taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead of a Social Security number. The Conference supports the amendment, which will help immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, who file taxes and have been on the front lines during the pandemic and disproportionately affected.

     Testimony on bills is posted after the hearings here.


    Families Testify on BOOST

    Senators heard about the positive impact of BOOST during a virtual budget hearing on Monday. Alisha Jordan, principal of Mother Mary Lange Catholic School, and several families whose children are benefiting from BOOST testified.  

    A mom of three students who depend on BOOST scholarships to attend a Catholic school in Maryland told the legislators that her husband had lost his job. The family income dropped so low that they became eligible to apply. She implored them to continue BOOST, which she told them, “has been a blessing for our family.”

    The uncle of two BOOST recipients who also attend a Catholic school spoke next. He urged the senators to support these scholarships, which empower low-income families to send their children to Catholic and other non-public schools. His told them that his nephews were born in El Salvador, but were brought to the United States  for safety in 2012 after gang members murdered their grandfather. With the help of BOOST scholarships, the family was able to move the boys into Catholic schools. The proud uncle noted that they are thriving, making honor roll and bringing home A’s and B’s.

    Garrett O’Day, deputy director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, rounded off the testimony by highlighting the need for expanded BOOST funding statewide. He noted the high demand, with 1,300 eligible families on this year’s waiting list. 

    If you want to help increase BOOST funding, which benefits families statewide, send your legislators our action alert


    State Expands COVID Vaccine Support

    Recognizing that many Marylanders may not have access to or be comfortable using the Internet, the Maryland Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Vaccination Support Center, providing telephone assistance with finding vaccine providers.

    Vaccine-eligible Marylanders can call daily, 7 a.m.-10 p.m., for information on COVID-19 vaccines, help identifying vaccine providers close to their homes, and assistance with scheduling an appointment at the state's mass vaccination sites, such as Six Flags America in Prince George's County and the Baltimore Convention Center. The number is 1-855-MDGOVAX (1-855-634-6829).

    On Feb. 22, Maryland's acting health secretary, Dennis Schrader announced that the a statewide portal for Marylanders to pre-register for appointments at the state-run sites will open in March. 

    Vaccination information is available online at https://coronavirus.maryland.gov. Check here to see if you are eligible to receive the vaccine in Maryland yet.  


    Pray for Our Elected Officials

    With Mother Mary Lange Catholic School

    Principal Alisha Jordan started a new adventure this fall: preparing to open a new, state-of-the-art elementary school. When Mother Mary Lange Catholic School opens in Baltimore’s District 40 next fall, it will be the first new Catholic elementary school built in the city in nearly 60 years. A number of students are expected to benefit from BOOST scholarships.

    Join Mrs. Jordan as she leads this week’s session prayer for elected officials by clicking the image above or visiting our prayer page, where you can access all of the video prayers from this session and read or download the prayer  (in English and Spanish). The newest prayer video also is posted on Twitter and Facebook (@mdcatholic) every Monday at 10 a.m.


    World Down Syndrome Day

    March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day, an annual opportunity to raise awareness of the millions of people worldwide born with a third copy of their 21st chromosome. We will have more soon, but wanted you to save the date and give you one idea now on how you can make a difference!

    Wear #LotsOfSocks. Colorful, mismatched, stripey, and wild socks are the hallmarks of World Down Syndrome Day. Raise awareness with your school, church, company, and family and send us photos of how you rock your socks! Email them to us in advance at [email protected] and we might just use your photos as we get the word out – or tag us (@mdcatholic) on social media posts on March 21.


     Of Note

    Updates from Maryland's (arch)bishops

    • Cardinal Gregory talked about racism from a personal perspective and about his journey to Catholicism in an interview with Al Roker that aired on NBC’s Today show last week. Watch here.
    • Archbishop Lori has issued an updated pastoral letter on evangelization, “A Light Brightly Visible 2.0” and announced the creation of a new Institute for Evangelization that is focused on parish renewal.
    • In Wilmington, Bishop Malooly continues to recover from his bypass surgery in late January. Please keep him in prayer.

     

    Friday fish fries for Lent are on in several parishes, though this year as carryout or drive-through. The Archdiocese of Baltimore has posted a list of parish fish fries here, and The Dialog website notes that St. Francis de Sales in Salisbury, MD, is offering fish fries on three Fridays. Please check in advance that the event is on and note the guidelines.


    JOIN THE CATHOLIC ADVOCACY NETWORK

    The Catholic Advocacy Network gives you a voice on important issues in Maryland. Learn more and join our network.

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    Advocacy Day is Feb. 16 - Get Text Alerts

    Maryland Catholic Advocacy Day is almost here and we need your voice! Join Catholics across Maryland to advocate with our state legislators, bringing hope and justice for the vulnerable, families, children, and our Church.

    We will highlight three issues for this year’s Advocacy Day, one each from our advocacy areas of education, respect life, and social and economic justice. 

    The action alerts will be emailed (or texted if you sign up for text alert) right to your inbox on Tuesday morning. Just click and sign with your name and address (that makes sure alerts get to the right state delegates and senators), then email, call, or Tweet. To get the action alerts via text: Text CATHOLIC to 443-764-8765.

    LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ISSUES
    IN OUR ADVOCACY DAY BRIEFING ROOM

    1. Support BOOST scholarship funding. BOOST scholarships are a matter of economic justice, empowering low-income Marylanders to have educational options, including Catholic schools. The proposed budget includes $10 million in BOOST funding, which will help alleviate the waiting list.

    2. Support perinatal hospice information. Perinatal hospice and palliative care give families who have received a life-limiting diagnosis for their child in utero the gift of time with their baby, helping them to process the diagnosis, welcome and say good-bye to their infant. This bill would ensure the state posts available resources online and in a printable brochure so it is easily available to parents.

    3. Support the Time to Care Act. This bill would establish an affordable insurance fund. Workers facing a new baby, serious illness, care needs for aging parents, or a military deployment could apply for modest benefits (up to 12 weeks) based on income.

    LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ISSUES
    IN OUR ADVOCACY DAY BRIEFING ROOM

    Thank you for being part of Catholic Advocacy Day in Maryland.

    See previews of Advocacy Day here: Catholic Standard | The Dialog


    Pray for Our Elected Officials

    Farmer Matt Jones and Friar Christopher, OFM Conv., are leading our prayer for elected officials this week. Located in Ellicott City (District 9), the Little Portion Farm at the Shrine of St. Anthony uses sustainable methods that respects and cares for the land. The produce harvested from the farm is donated to help people in need in Baltimore.

    Click above to watch and listen or visit our prayer page, where you can see all of the video prayers from this session and read or download the prayer  (in English and Spanish).


     Of Note

    On Friday, the RELIEF Act (Recovery for the Economy, Livelihoods, Industries, Entrepreneurs, and Families) was passed by the House of Representatives. It already had been passed by the Senate and now is to Governor Hogan to sign into law. The RELIEF Act provides economic stimulus funds and tax relief designed to assist individuals and businesses impacted by COVID.

    The Maryland Catholic Conference submitted testimony in support of the RELIEF Act. Conference testimony is posted online throughout the week. Scan the list and click to read testimony of interest. The individual testimony also includes a link to the General Assembly bill page so you can follow the bill.

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    Catholic Voice Update | Feb. 9

    Catholic Advocacy Day is in ONE Week!

     

    Join Catholics from across Maryland on our one-day push to have as many Catholics as possible contact their legislators on key bills. Next Tuesday, Feb. 16, we will send you emails (or texts, if you signed up) and post our bills online and on social media so you can join in from wherever you are.

    Watch the invitation from Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory

    Advocacy Day Bills

    We anticipate one of the action alerts for Advocacy Day will be in support of BOOST scholarships for low-income Maryland families to choose a non-public school education, but the final decision on which bills to highlight will come after we have been able to review all of the newly filed bills and also consider where bills are in the legislative process, so stay tuned!

    More than 2,100 bills have been introduced to date, including a couple of hundred on this past Friday, the day the House “hopper” closed (when bills can be submitted through the regular process).


    What We are Working On

    As of this week, the Maryland Catholic Conference will have provided testimony on nearly 100 bills of concern to Catholics, across a wide range of topics. Below are just a few of the bills we are tracking. You can see our testimony on our website as it is posted and read the bills. (The testimony list is updated several times each week.)

    Support for Pregnant and Parenting Students

    Three House bills this session focus on pregnant and parenting students in public schools: HB 359, 401 and 439. “We want to help make sure teen parents don’t have to choose between their child and their education,” said Molly Sheahan, associate director for respect life advocacy, adding, “Research has also demonstrated a strong link between parents’ educational level and children’s well-being.”

    HB 359 and HB 439 would collect and analyze data (respecting privacy) on the number of pregnant or parenting students – fathers and mothers. “Good data will help Maryland learn more about the unique challenges of these students and what it takes to encourage, prepare and support them,” Sheahan noted.

    HB 401 would require the state Department of Education to develop a model policy to support the educational goals of young parents, such as a lactation room for new mothers, and advice on transportation and child care, issues that end up becoming barriers for them in continuing their education.

    Paid Family Leave

    Only 17 percent of working adults in Maryland have access to paid family leave, which creates a real hardship for families across the state: new birth-, adoptive- or foster parents, adults caring for elderly parents or facing a medical emergency, and families caring for a wounded service member. The Time to Care Act (HB 375 and SB 211) create a new insurance plan for families.

    “Depending on their income, workers would be eligible for $50 - $1,000 per week, for up to 12 weeks,” said MJ Kraska, associate director for social and economic justice at the Conference. “This bill is to assist parents, whether welcoming a new child into the family, taking care of a medical emergency or caring for aging parents,” he said.

    BOOST Scholarships

    Since 2016, BOOST (Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today) scholarships have helped thousands of low-income Maryland families place their children in a school that fits their child’s needs. “BOOST is about both social and economic justice and access to Catholic schools. It offers something for everyone to get behind and is critically important for these kids,” said Garrett O’Day, deputy director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, adding, “We saw another large increase in demand this year.”

    Expanding Food Access to Low-Income Households

    When a family doesn’t know where its next meal will come from, it can be difficult to focus on other areas of life, including work and housing. MJ Kraska notes that access to food is part of respecting the dignity of the human person. The Conference will submit testimony this week on HB 101, which seeks to expand food access to low-income households that receive or are eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.


    Pray with Bishop Lewandowski

    Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Bruce Lewandowski, CSsR, leads our prayer this week for Maryland’s elected officials. He is also pastor of Sagrado Corazon de Jesus/Sacred Heart of Jesus, in Baltimore (District 46).

    Click above to watch and listen (in Spanish, with English subtitles) or visit our prayer page, where you can see all of the video prayers from this session and read or download the prayer  (in English and Spanish).


     Of Note

    Feb. 11 is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of Prayer for the Sick. May we hold in prayer all those who are suffering with COVID-19 and with other illnesses, that they may experience the healing presence of Christ. Read the Holy Father’s message here.

    Finally, it was wonderful to see and meet everyone at the Feb. 4 March for Life, which was smaller and socially distant this year due to the pandemic.

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