VISION

For too long, the First District has lacked a representative who listens, who shows up, and who delivers on the issues that matter to families on the Eastern Shore and Harford and Baltimore Counties. I have spent my career in public service listening to people’s concerns, bringing people together, and getting the job done. In Congress, I’ll build on that record by lowering the cost of living, bringing better jobs to our communities, centering farmers in our environmental protection strategies, and expanding health care access and coverage.

EconomyFirst
A 10-Point Plan to Boost our First District Economy
Lower cost of living. Better jobs in our communities. More money in your pocket.

My top priority as your Congresswoman will always be the economy first – leading conversations and driving policy solutions that will keep our regional economy vibrant and strong. That starts with tackling inflation, lowering taxes for middle class families and small business owners, and creating more good-paying jobs.

As the daughter of a factory welder, I intimately understand the importance of a good job with solid wages and benefits to care for a family. From my time in the small business and non-profit sectors, I know the struggles of meeting payroll, the challenges of a lack of access to capital, and the weight of certain regulations that can hinder our creative spirit and threaten our ability to succeed. As a former state legislator, city councilmember, and congressional staff member, I have experience navigating every level of government and understanding exactly where informed engagement and persistence can deliver the best results for an economy that benefits us all.

My job is to engage in hyper-local conversations at every level of business and government to understand how best to champion our First District needs in Washington, DC – within the Congressional legislative process as well as interactions with federal agencies whose regulatory and grant-making decisions have vast impacts on our local economies. It matters that we have our voices represented at the federal decision tables and that we elect a fierce advocate to make sure we are competitive, innovative, and successful. It’s time we “Score More for the Shore” and Harford and Baltimore Counties.

Over the course of 2021, I conducted a range of economic development meetings, tours, and roundtable conversations with experts and stakeholders in our communities to better understand our area’s economic strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and to formulate this federal economic strategy that is tailored to our region.

This is not a spending plan. Most of EconomyFirst is a blueprint of how I will ensure the First District gets its share of money that Congress is already allocating. Relentlessly pursuing federal funding opportunities provides a stimulant to partner with and to unleash the job-creating potential of organizations, institutions, and private sector and industry investments in our region.

The plan is largely not reliant on new spending – and in the cases where I am calling for targeted new investments, those will be more than paid for by closing tax loopholes for large corporations and asking individuals who make more than $400K annually to pay the same rates they were paying before the 2017 Trump tax cuts went into effect. Any excess revenue created by asking the wealthiest among us to pay their fair share should be used to reduce the deficit.

In the state legislature, I served on the House budget committee under Appropriations Chairman Norm Conway (Wicomico & Worcester). Delegate Conway always stressed our Eastern Shore budget values of being “socially responsible and fiscally prudent.” EconomyFirst is a reflection of that philosophy.

Here is my plan:

The pandemic economy has been anything but predictable. Inflation is hurting all of us. My EconomyFirst plan is a roadmap of my priorities: how I will work in Congress to ease financial burdens for families and businesses, boost earnings, close the worker shortage gap, lower regulatory burdens, address the supply chain challenges, and rein in rising inflation that eats away at our wage gains.

 

The U.S. economy added nearly seven million jobs in 2021 and has seen average earnings climb by 5.7 percent; however, with inflation rising faster than at any point in the past 40 years, and consumer prices climbing more than 8%, those wage increases are being decimated and families everywhere are hurting.

 

The challenge for policymakers is to rein in prices without triggering another recession or slowing the recovery from the pandemic. I advocate the following solutions to address inflation:

Add a Rural Component to the Consumer Price Index

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks the national Consumer Price Index (CPI) which measures the change in prices paid by consumers for goods and services such as food, fuels, energy, vehicles, apparel, medical costs, and shelter. The CPI is the leading indicator for spotting inflation trends. But the experience of most First District residents is completely ignored in this calculation because the CPI does not calculate the spending patterns of people living in rural areas or farming families. This is a blatant disregard at the national level for our unique experience as rural communities during an economic downturn. The CPI is also used by the Social Security Administration to give an automatic annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for Social Security recipients. But if rural families are not included in the calculation of the CPI, how can we be confident our COLAs are a reflection of our economic experience?

 

In Congress, I will introduce legislation to reform the way the CPI is calculated to include the market basket of goods and services purchased by people living in rural areas and farming families.

Temporarily Suspend the Federal Gas Tax

Consumers pay an average 52.64 cents in combined state and federal taxes at the gas pump. This is a tax that impacts rural residents particularly hard, since we must drive longer distances and with fewer public transportation options than our urban counterparts. The federal gas tax is currently set at 18.4 cents / gallon (24.4 cents for diesel fuel) and is dedicated to a national trust fund that pays for highway and bridge construction. In November of 2021, President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, infusing an historic investment of $1.2 trillion in public infrastructure. Thanks to that, the federal Highway Trust Fund can withstand a temporary loss of revenue without having a negative impact on local transportation projects. In an effort to use every tool at our disposal to address inflation at the gas pump, I support a temporary suspension of the federal gas tax to weather this storm. Such action must come with legislative provisions requiring oil and gas companies to pass these savings directly to the consumer while also requiring these companies to fund a hold harmless provision to protect investments in the Highway Trust Fund.

Release of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve

Since November 2021, the Biden Administration has been regularly selling barrels of oil from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) in a concerted effort to add more supply and lower prices at the pump. While it should be a limited practice, I support the sale and use of SPR stockpiles to calm oil markets when it is done in tandem with releases from other non-OPEC countries who are members in the International Energy Agency intended to address global supply challenges.

Hold Oil and Gas Companies Accountable

Consolidation in the oil and gas sector has potentially created an anti-competitive environment that keeps consumers from benefitting when oil prices fall. I support asking the Federal Trade Commission to examine what is happening in these markets and whether illegal conduct is driving up costs.

Strengthen Supply Chains

For years, our public approach to domestic production has prioritized efficiency and low costs over security, sustainability, and resilience – all of which create supply chain risks. The COVID-19 global pandemic and resulting economic crisis have pointed to structural weaknesses in our domestic and international supply chains. In June 2021, the Biden Administration issued a report summarizing a 100-day review of supply chain issues affecting our nation. Among the promising recommendations that I will work to advance:

 

  • The federal government should leverage its purchasing power to strengthen the National Defense Stockpile and the use of the Defense Production Act program to address supply chain deficiencies.
  • The U.S. Trade Representative should identify unfair foreign trade practices that have eroded critical supply chains in the U.S. and recommend trade actions to address the findings.
  • Establish a Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force within the Administration that will coordinate across agencies.

To strengthen supply chain weaknesses, a task force report on manufacturing competitiveness at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute recommends modernizing the Defense Production Act to authorize new “special manufacturing zones” with fast-tracked, simplified permitting, preferential tax treatment, focused workforce programs, and capital investments.

Dedicate Budget Surplus to Debt Relief

In an effort to blunt the pandemic’s economic damage on families and businesses, the federal government assumed more debt to offload the pressure on average Americans by offering stimulus checks, the Paycheck Protection Program, and expanding the Child Tax Credit, among other initiatives that worked successfully to keep jobs and wages secure during this unpredictable time. More money in the pockets of families creates more consumer spending. Though we also found that there was a pandemic shift in consumer behavior of buying more goods and fewer services, which also put pressure on the supply chains.

 

While government spending affects inflation, the size of the federal deficit is not considered to have a direct impact on prices. I propose dedicating any excess revenue generated from EconomyFirst to debt relief rather than any additional government spending.

SMALL BUSINESSES

Small business entrepreneurs are the economic lifeblood of local communities and I pledge my full support to partner with our small business leaders to achieve their maximum economic potential. While support for small business owners is woven throughout the plan, this section specifically outlines support for tax and regulatory relief and access to capital that is targeted to small businesses.

Small Business Tax Relief

In 2017, the Congress created the Small Business Deduction for businesses organized as pass-throughs (S corporations, LLCs, sole proprietorships, or partnerships) not as C corporations. Under this provision, pass-through business owners, regardless of the type of business they own – can claim up to a 20% tax deduction on their share of the business’ income, up to $170,050 in tax year 2022 ($340,100 for joint filers). This important small business tax relief is scheduled to expire in 2025. I support passing the Main Street Tax Certainty Act to make the Small Business Deduction permanent. I also believe in rooting out fraud and abuse anywhere that it exists – including in the tax code – and will work to make sure this relief is restricted to legitimate small businesses and that we crack down on tax avoidance schemes.

 

Small business owners are also able to deduct some of the costs of equipment purchased for use in their businesses. Eligible assets that depreciate over time are eligible for “bonus expensing” where instead of expensing a fraction of the price per use, they can expense the entire purchase all at once. This provision is set to expire in 2024. I support extension of the bonus expensing provisions for small businesses.

 

Eligible employers who offer paid family and medical leave to their employees qualify for a federal tax credit that is set to expire in 2025. I support extending this tax credit for future years.

Replenishing the Restaurant Revitalization Fund

Small businesses are the backbone of every local economy and restaurants and bars make up the heart of most communities’ economic well being. Because they were hit hardest by the pandemic’s economic restrictions, the Congress created a $28 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) that was depleted within two months, leaving a vast majority of applicants with no relief as demand for the program was so high. Many of these small businesses are on the verge of bankruptcy as they take on additional personal debt, business loans, and laying off staff just to stay operational. I support providing an additional investment of $40 billion to replenish this fund to meet the industry’s need for assistance. As many as eighty percent of all restaurants who did not get original funding from the RRF are at risk for permanent closure. Dedicating money to the RRF is key to stabilizing local restaurants and bars, a key driver of local economic health. This will also help entrepreneurs from passing along the costs of rising food prices onto their consumers.

Regulatory Relief

The federal Small Business Administration has an Office of the National Ombudsman (ONO), which works with agencies across the federal government to review complaints made by small businesses, reduce or waive penalties, and reverse unfair agency decisions. I support regulatory relief for small businesses by empowering the ONO to expand its outreach to small businesses in a more comprehensive way; to develop best practice guidelines to address small business concerns across federal agency platforms through training webinars, compliance guides, and improved customer service; to streamline points of contact in each federal agency to improve ONO advocacy on behalf of small business owners; and to compile consensus recommendations to the Congress from an annual survey of small business owners seeking input on regulations deemed overly burdensome and unnecessary or in need of reform.

Access to Capital

Small businesses often struggle with limited options for gaining capital financing for their businesses. Let’s change that.

 

The Emergency Capital Investment Program (ECIP) was created by Congress to encourage low-and-moderate income community financial institutions to support small businesses and consumers in their rural and underserved communities. Under this program, the U.S. Treasury Department has dedicated $9 billion in capital directly to depository institutions that are certified Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs – which are not-for-profit banks and credit unions) or minority depository institutions (MDIs) to provide grants and loans to these targeted businesses.

 

From its conception, the ECIP was considered emergency relief and, therefore, a temporary program. However, I propose federal review of the success of this program – including whether rural lending institutions were sufficiently included in the financial set asides – and the potential need to make access to such small business capital investments a more permanent feature of the Community Development Banking and Financial Institutions Act of 1994.

 

My congressional office will work with stakeholders in our region to develop more small business loan funds in our First District communities. The Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center’s portfolio of revolving loan funds is one model on which to build. Some of the growth in these opportunities will come from advocating administrative changes within federal lending programs. For example, current law requires non-bank entities to be regulated like banks to qualify as lending participants, even though they are audited by a private third-party auditor.

 

The U.S. Small Business Administration provides access to three main types of loans – 7(a) loans (up to $5 million loans that can be used for short-and long-term working capital, to refinance current business debt, to purchase furniture, fixtures, and supplies), 504 loans (of up to $5 million for major fixed assets that promote business growth and job creation), and microloans (of up to $50,000 to help small businesses start up and expand).

 

The USDA provides microloans for microenterprise startups and growth through a Rural Microloan Revolving Fund that offers grants of up to $205,000 annually or fixed rate loans of $50,000 to $500,000. USDA Rural Development also offers Communities Facilities Programs to provide direct loans, loan guarantees, and grants to develop or improve rural facilities and public services.

 

I am dedicated to developing expertise in our congressional office to help small businesses in the First District navigate the application and approval process for these and other grant and loan programs.

 

And finally, a word about Opportunity Zones.

 

The Opportunity Zones (OZ) program is a bipartisan measure of the tax reform bill passed in 2017 which allows investors to secure a tax break on capital gains by putting their returns in funds that provide equity investments for projects in areas that the federal government defines as “economically distressed.” There are 149 OZs in Maryland, including 24 that are in communities in the First District. So far, there have been no investments in the Opportunity Zones in our region. This is in part due to aspects of this program that need to be amended or changed. For example, the program should allow for a re-evaluation of locations on where this kind of investment is most needed. Some of our counties would like an opportunity to redefine the areas chosen as OZs. I also propose amending this federal initiative to allow the program to sponsor investments in community development financial institutions that offer loans to small businesses in underserved and rural areas and to cut down on abuse of the program by the wealthy and well-connected.

MIDDLE CLASS RELIEF

The middle class carries a disproportionate tax burden and I support prioritizing tax relief for small businesses, the middle class, and working families.

Raise the Federal Minimum Wage

The federal minimum wage has not been raised since 2009 and is currently set at $7.25 per hour. However, many states and municipalities have stepped in to raise wages in the absence of federal action. In 2022, there are wage increases set to become law in 21 states and 35 cities and counties. Maryland’s minimum wage protection stands at $12.50 per hour and will be phased to $15 by 2025. In April 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order creating a $15 minimum wage for federal workers. Not only do workers deserve fair wages for their work, a uniform national minimum wage of $15 per hour will set a level playing field for Maryland’s small businesses. In a pandemic economy with rising inflation, labor costs are a component of determining price competition with neighboring states. I propose pairing passage of the federal minimum wage increase with enactment of the Main Street Tax Certainty Act to make the Small Business Deduction permanent.

Extend the Enhanced Child Tax Cut

The American Rescue Plan temporarily increased the Child Tax Credit to $3000 for each child aged 17 or under and $3600 for children under the age of 6. The credit was also made fully refundable for one year and it made monthly payments to families rather than an annual lump sum. This policy lifted economic conditions for millions of the nation’s estimated 10.5 million children living in poverty. It is estimated that if these benefits were to continue long term, the nation’s child poverty could drop by as much as 40 percent a year. These payments help families pay for housing, utilities, and food and child care expenses. These provisions were allowed to expire at the end of 2021. The enhanced Child Tax Credit should be extended for at least one more year with a detailed review of the two-year experience with the enhanced payments to determine the cost-benefit analysis of making it permanent.

Expand the Earned Income Tax Cut

The American Rescue Plan increased the maximum amount of the EITC temporarily for one year from $530 to $1500 for 17 million lower-income workers without children (those earning less than $21,000 per year). This enhanced EITC should be extended for at least one more year.

Establish a new Renter’s Tax Cut

The details of this proposal are discussed in the Housing and Community Development section of this plan.

Manufacturing in the First District is a key component to our region’s economic health and diversity. From Frito Lay Snacks in Harford County and Veltec plastics processing in Cecil County; from Dixon Valve & Coupling in Kent County to Paul Reed Smith Guitars in Queen Anne’s County; from Crystal Steel Fabricators in Caroline County to Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Wicomico County – these are among a few of the diverse businesses that contribute to a strong manufacturing presence vital to our communities.

 

The First District’s manufacturing talent creates fabricated metal parts, valves, microelectronics and telecom parts, wire mesh and wire molded products, food processing, boat building, guitars, biopharmaceuticals, plastics, and print industries just to name a few.

 

EconomyFirst is rooted in the promotion, support, and partnership of our manufacturing and construction industries and to leverage as much federal support as possible for these anchor employers. It’s time to “Make More on the Shore.”

Clean Energy Innovation

One of the promising new areas of manufacturing growth for our region is in the clean energy sector. In 2019, the state of Maryland passed a Clean Energy Jobs Act, which increased our state’s requirement to get half of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and created a path for Maryland to reach 100% renewable energy by 2040.

 

The job-creating potential of offshore wind energy in Maryland’s First District is clear: from blade manufacturers to gearbox makers; from engineers to construction workers; from operators to electricians.

 

There are two companies competing in this clean energy sector in Maryland. US Wind was recently awarded a permit to build 808.5 MW of new energy and Skipjack Offshore Energy, LLC (Ørsted) was awarded 846 MW. The Maryland Public Service Commission’s (PSC) approval for permitting obligates these companies to capital investments and job creation in our region.

 

US Wind’s phase two Momentum Wind project (estimated to include 82 turbines) is required to develop a monopile construction facility at Sparrows Point (just 15 miles outside the First District) to produce the structural pilings needed for wind turbine foundations. This facility (known as Sparrows Point Steel) will create 500 full time manufacturing jobs and will contribute $6.9 billion to Maryland’s Gross Domestic Product over the span of twenty years. This partnership is estimated to bring 3,500 construction jobs to Maryland and an additional 100 jobs once operational, totaling an $800 million investment in our state’s economy.

 

Ørsted announced a major economic agreement in October 2021 that will establish Maryland’s first offshore wind steel fabrication center at Crystal Steel Fabricators in Federalsburg (Caroline County) in the First District. Ørsted’s investment in Crystal Steel will enable nearly $70 million in supply agreements and create an additional 50 new steel jobs on the Eastern Shore. This work is in addition to Ørsted’s construction of Maryland’s first emissions-free offshore wind operations and maintenance facility in West Ocean City which will create 110 jobs and generate an estimated $25 million in local investments for the Skipjack Wind program.

 

In Congress, I will strongly advocate for expedited federal approval of these Maryland projects in addition to close coordination with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the U.S. Coast Guard to protect the interests of commercial and recreational fishing, boating, and tourism as these projects continue to move forward.

 

I also support the extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for wind energy generation which will spur additional economic investments in projects like these and will save people money on their energy bills because we will be less reliant on expensive fossil fuels

Life Sciences

Maryland is one of the nation’s top leaders in the advancement of bio and life sciences research and manufacturing. I am dedicated to supporting and growing this vital work in the First District.

 

Federal investments in biomedical research and development through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are more than $32 billion annually. This funding is critical for research that drives discovery as well as generating breakthroughs and new treatments to advance longer and healthier lives.

 

In addition to supporting these annual NIH appropriations at the highest levels, I will always seek to promote federal grant funding and regulatory decisions to enhance commercialization of the life sciences from labs to marketplaces in the First District, which is home to multiple manufacturing facilities in the biopharmaceutical and medical device fields.

 

For example, Cecil County’s Clene Nanomedicine is making advancements in biopharmaceutical efforts to arrest neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson’s Disease. The goal of their treatment approach is to fix the damage from the disease progression and help patients reclaim function. In August 2021, Clene announced their work undertaking the renovation of a 75,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Elkton that will employ 500 people when it is fully operational.

 

Other First District employers in this space include companies like Tumero Medical Corporation in Elkton (Cecil County), Aphena Pharma Solutions in Easton (Talbot County), and Jubilant Cadista’s generic pharmaceutical manufacturing in Salisbury (Wicomico County).

 

The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) is another resource in our region for accelerating partnerships for the First District. NIIMBL is funded through a $70 million cooperative agreement with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the U.S. Department of Commerce and leverages private partnerships to accelerate biopharma innovation, support standards that make more efficient and rapid manufacturing capabilities, and educate and train a world-leading biopharmaceutical manufacturing workforce. NIIMBL is located near the Upper Shore of Maryland on the campus of the University of Delaware, in Newark – just across the Maryland border with Cecil County – and we must develop and grow collaborative opportunities on this campus that benefit our region.

National Center for Agbiotech Manufacturing

I support the vision of the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center’s proposal to create a National Center for Agbiotech Manufacturing to transition companies in this space from R&D lab to manufacturing and commercialization of new plant- and animal-cell technologies and products. This $18.25 million construction project which starts with the acquisition of a 92-acre business facility at the Mid-Shore Regional Technology and Business Park in Ridgely (Caroline County) would create a regional cluster that is attractive to both early-stage companies interested in commercializing plant and animal cell-based products as well as to larger agriscience companies (like Bayer, Syngenta, Corteva) who want proximity and access to the cluster’s concentration of talent and ideas and to be closer to regulators and federal agencies. My congressional office will partner to provide federal support and funding for this vision.

Additive Manufacturing and Automated Construction (3-D Printing)

Where typical manufacturing operates by cutting away or molding material, additive manufacturing uses digital designs to guide the fabrication of complex, three-dimensional products that are built up, layer by layer. I support boosting federal research investments in the growth and innovation field of large-scale 3D printing for a range of construction and manufacturing opportunities.

 

Additive manufacturing is causing fundamental changes in the way parts are produced. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) at the U.S. Department of Commerce is taking the lead among federal agencies in determining the measurement science research and standards development necessary for the U.S. industry to adapt to these changes in manufacturing.

 

Additive manufacturing with concrete (also known as 3D Concrete Printing), is an emerging technology in the construction industry. Rapid (and cheaper) construction enabled by these techniques could provide shelter to communities affected by disaster, making more affordable housing options, building with local materials in hostile environments, and repairing concrete in hard to access areas, to name a few. But more research must be conducted regarding the long-term performance of these structures to assure adequate safety standards. NIST is conducting this research and should be fully funded.

 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers researchers also have been on the forefront of exploration of this new technology at the Engineer Research and Development Center and the Construction Engineer Research Laboratory and have been testing their Additive Construction program with military personnel throughout the Department of Defense (including at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in the First District). This work is to determine proof of concept all the way to testing field conditions for full-scale 512-square foot buildings, guard shelters, jersey barriers, t-walls, culverts, and bridges produced by 3D printing.

 

The U.S. Department of Energy is funding research to achieve high energy and construction efficiency through 3D printing of concrete walls in buildings, which should also demonstrate savings in construction cost and time.

 

I support ongoing federal investments in advancing this research on standards and safety protocols and conducting this work in a timely manner so we might bring more large-scale industrial 3D printing opportunities to the forefront of manufacturing and construction options for the First District.

Made in America

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes important provisions meant to boost domestic manufacturing by applying “Build America, Buy America” Act (BABA) domestic preference requirements for federal-aid infrastructure programs. In addition to requiring U.S. production of all iron, steel, manufactured products and construction materials used in the award of any federal infrastructure project, the BABA also creates a new federal Made in America Office that will oversee the implementation and waiver process for these provisions. I will work to ensure the spirit and the letter of this law is implemented in ways that boost opportunities for our local manufacturers as well as assisting any of our businesses who need to apply for reasonable waivers of the provision as allowed under the law.

For many of our industries, there are jobs available, but often not enough workers with the backgrounds necessary to fill them. Labor shortages and a mismatch between available workers, available jobs, and skills needed to do those jobs well has created a strain on the economy.

 

This can be fixed through a coordinated strategy on strengthening labor unions, advancing career and technical education opportunities, establishing robust and accredited apprenticeship programs, and making local workforce development boards the regional go-to, one-stop-shop job counseling and matching centers they are capable of becoming.

 

Advocating for additional federal funding for the First District to develop CTE pathways or apprenticeships that lead to high-wage and in-demand careers in support of Maryland’s workforce and economic development needs is one of my key priorities.

Strengthening Unions

I am a proud daughter of labor. My father was a factory welder and member of the United Auto Workers (Local 751) for thirty-two years. I believe that labor unions not only help employees, but also help employers. Employees want to be compensated appropriately and treated with respect. Employers want reliable, productive workers. Workers who are in a labor union are often more productive and are less likely to leave their jobs than their non-unionized counterparts. That’s something a lot of employers are looking for in today’s tight labor market.

 

I support the proposed federal Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would introduce meaningful, enforceable penalties for companies and executives that violate workers’ rights; expand workers’ collective bargaining rights and close loopholes that corporations use to exploit their workers; and strengthen workers’ access to fair union elections and require corporations to respect the results.

Career and Technical Education

Maryland dedicates a disproportionate amount of its resources ($2 billion) supporting the one-third of its high school graduates who earn college degrees and gives scant funding ($100 million) to the two-thirds majority who do not. Efforts are underway to change this. A new state blueprint for education invests additional resources in comprehensive career counseling for students and sets robust goals and funding to integrate Career and Technical Education (CTE) with apprenticeships. Federal support can help take this to scale.

 

Under the federal Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (also known as Perkins V) Congress appropriates roughly $1.3 billion annually in state formula grants to develop and implement CTE programs. The U.S. Department of Education which oversees this program requires each state to develop a four-year plan for CTE. Maryland’s CTE Four-Year State Plan received federal approval in August 2020.

 

I am dedicated to appointing a member of our future congressional staff team to oversee and coordinate implementation and oversight of this plan and other regional workforce development issues in the First District, including targeting federal funding opportunities to advance these goals.

 

Students in Maryland can focus their CTE studies in ten career clusters:

 

  • Arts, Media, and Communications
  • Business Management and Finance
  • Construction and Development
  • Consumer Services, Hospitality, and Tourism
  • Environmental, Agriculture, and Natural Resources
  • Health and Bioscience
  • Human Resource Services
  • Information Technology
  • Manufacturing, Engineering, and Technology
  • Transportation Technologies

 

Each career cluster has CTE programs of study with content that is aligned with academic and industry standards and employability skills. The CTE programs of study provide students an opportunity to earn postsecondary degrees and/or industry-recognized credentials while also offering direct engagement opportunities in workplace learning experiences.

 

Every county in the First District has at least one designated CTE school or has integrated CTE programs at their traditional high schools (such as Kent, Talbot, and Queen Anne’s Counties).

 

Our local CTE schools include:

 

  • Harford Technical High School
  • Cecil County School of Technology
  • Caroline Career & Technology Center
  • Dorchester Career & Technology Center
  • Tawes Career and Technical Center (Somerset County)
  • Worcester Technical High School
  • Parkside Career Technology Center (Wicomico County)
  • Chesapeake Culinary Center in Denton (Caroline County)

 

Another set of key partners in workforce training are the local community colleges, which in the First District include:

 

  • Chesapeake College
  • Wor-Wic Community College
  • Cecil College
  • Harford Community College
  • Community College of Baltimore County

 

I propose hosting an annual First District conference to bring together regional stakeholders, including local industries and CTE schools and community colleges, to align workforce needs with CTE clusters, curricula, and programs of study; and to assist with student placements for matching mentorships, apprenticeships, and future jobs in our district. One area of focus for us will be to address barriers that small businesses face in leveraging the full potential of CTE experiences.

Apprenticeship Programs

Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job training with classroom instruction to prepare workers for highly-skilled careers. This model is win-win for the employer who is better able to recruit, build, and retain a highly-skilled workforce and the employee who receives a skills-building education that leads to a good-paying job. Union apprenticeships with carpenters, painters, and building trades, for example, serve as especially successful model programs.

 

For programs registered under the standards of the U.S. Department of Labor, an apprenticeship is different from other workforce training programs because they are paid jobs providing structured work-based learning, mentorships, classroom instruction, and provide portable, nationally-recognized industry credentials.

 

There are federal resources available for apprenticeship expansion and innovation and I envision bringing stakeholders together to apply for available grants and help our region successfully compete for these funds. The U.S. Department of Labor has devoted $113 million for its Apprenticeship Building America (ABA) Grant Program for this fiscal year alone.

 

One of the key stakeholders in this consortium will be local workforce development boards.

Workforce Development Boards

The federal Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act is designed to help job seekers access employment, education, training, and support services to succeed in the labor market and to match employers with skilled workers necessary to compete in the global economy.

 

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration provides funding to support workforce development programs for eligible adults, youth, and dislocated workers. These programs are administered through local Workforce Development Boards. For the First District, this includes:

 

  • Upper Shore Workforce Investment Board
  • Lower Shore Workforce Alliance
  • Susquehanna Workforce Network (Harford and Cecil)

 

These agencies assist with adult education and family literacy, rehabilitation services, social services, and in-demand training options to qualify workers for careers in our region.

 

Federal funding for these local agencies is allocated to the states on a formula basis. I propose increasing the base funding for these allotments and adding additional legislative language that gives higher federal matching dollars for any state investments that are leveraged into this program.

Workforce Re-Entry

There is a significant amount of federal grant support available for job search assistance, employment resources, and training opportunities for military service members transitioning to the civilian workforce, veterans, people with disabilities, and those who served time in the criminal justice system. I will position stakeholders in the First District to apply and successfully compete for these resources in the U.S. Department of Labor, National Dislocated Worker grants; the U.S. Department of Education, Vocational Rehabilitation programs; and the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, to name a few.

Having access to quality and affordable housing in a safe and healthy community is the foundation for all other economic and social activities. However, complex market forces interacting with layers of government programs and policies over many decades creates a heavy mix of challenges that make solutions in this area seem elusive. We can start by making progress in a few specific areas. This section of the plan is not intended to be a comprehensive housing policy platform; however, we can target some specific federal programs for support and promote some policy adjustments that would have a net positive impact on the First District’s available affordable housing opportunities.

Create a Renter’s Tax Cut

Most of the federal government’s investment in middle class wealth-building supports families who can afford to buy their homes and benefit from mortgage deductions on their taxes. We spend over $200 billion annually through the tax code subsidizing homeownership. We have no similar support for renters. I propose the creation of a new refundable renter’s tax credit that could help lower the threshold of income-to-rent ratios that have many Marylanders upside down in their family budgets. Our plan also proposes that participants in the Renter’s Tax Credit Program could choose to direct their credits to a tax-advantaged savings account to be used for a down payment on a future mortgage.

Build Innovative, Seasonal Workforce Housing in Ocean City

We are experiencing a workforce housing crisis in Ocean City, where the tourism-based economy relies on thousands of seasonal workers to thrive. A combination of Maryland college students as well as international workers (under the J-1 Visa Summer Work Travel Program or the H-2B Visa program) support the hospitality industry that is the backbone of Ocean City’s seasonal economy. These workers have relatively few safe, adequate, and affordable housing options in the area; and with nowhere to live, these jobs will go unfilled — creating a downward spiral of negative economic conditions for the region. One public-private partnership opportunity to address this challenge would be to collaborate with Holtz Builders, Inc — the country’s most experienced developer and builder of dormitory-style seasonal workforce housing — to bring their successful model to Worcester County by offering long-term, low-interest financing for this project in West Ocean City to advance.

 

Here is one funding source we could dedicate for this purpose: a portion of Maryland’s allotment from the National Housing Trust Fund (HTF). This federal assistance is targeted to help build, rehabilitate, preserve, and operate rental housing and home ownership that is affordable. The HTF is funded by a small fee on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae activity. Money in this program is distributed through a state block grant funding formula that allows for local decision-making and control. Maryland received $9.975 million in its HTF formula allocation in fiscal year 2021. However, this amount does not come close to addressing current needs. I support increasing funding for the Housing Trust Fund by adjusting the current fee (0.042%) on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae activities upward to generate more revenue for the program. Specific to the Ocean City seasonal workforce housing project, money from Maryland’s allotment should be dedicated to securing the long-term, low-interest financing needed to make this project a reality. Maryland benefits tremendously from Ocean City’s tourism economy and must be dedicated to keeping it healthy and strong.

Establish a Maryland Office for USDA Rural Housing Programs

The USDA operates a Rural Housing Program through its Rural Development (RD) division. The USDA Rural Development Guaranteed Housing Loan program offers reduced mortgage rates available to home buyers with low-to-average income for their area and offers 100% financing with reduced mortgage insurance premiums. Single Family Housing Repair Loans and Grants provide funds to elderly and low-income homeowners to remove health and safety hazards, perform repairs, modernize or make home improvements / energy efficiency / or accessibility. Day-to-day management of these programs is carried out by RD staff in 47 state offices. Maryland is one of the few states that does not have its own office. Our RD state director is located in Delaware. I will advocate establishing our own Maryland office located in the First District.

Reform the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program

The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program is the federal government’s primary tool for incentivizing the development of affordable housing stock. LIHTC gives states approximately $9.5 billion in annual budget authority to issue tax credits to encourage developers to create set asides for affordable housing through the acquisition, rehabilitation, or construction of rental housing for lower-income households. This program has benefited from long-standing bipartisan political support, homebuilding industry support, and investor support. LIHTC has also been an essential partner in preserving and expanding affordable rural rental housing. Nearly 100% of all USDA Section 538 guaranteed loans made for new construction have relied on LIHTC to provide equity.

 

But this program also faces challenges. The process of allocating and awarding Low Income Housing Tax Credits is time-consuming and cumbersome. Layering in the allocation process (which sends this money from the federal government to the states; from the states to developers; from the developers to investors) results in economic inefficiencies and complexities that do not serve the program well. Additionally, units are not required to be permanently affordable. Community NIMBY opposition to affordable housing can block development or limit it to undesirable areas that concentrate poverty and segregation.

 

My office will advocate for federal agency review of these LIHTC challenges and work to drive consensus on policy reforms to streamline financing, shorten project timelines, reduce costs, improve longevity of unit affordability, and strengthen the overall program while also ensuring appropriate funding levels for state allocations to meet the growing need.

Advocate Mixed-Use Development Projects

My congressional office will partner with local stakeholders to expand the availability of unique residential housing and mixed use retail development projects that will boost economic activity in the First District. One such project is in Dorchester County at the Cambridge Waterfront Development at Sailwinds, which envisions a massive overhaul of the waterfront property along the Choptank River to create mixed-use commercial/retail (for hospitality, food, and beverage operations) and residential units. Current concepts in their working plan include public amenities along the waterfront (walking promenade with biking trails), greenspace for recreation, events and entertainment, unrestricted access for an improved boat ramp, and beach access for swimming. This project is being overseen by a non-profit community development group and is working with local property neighbors and community businesses to coordinate plans and long-term visioning. In addition to using expertise and relationships at all levels of government to facilitate the success of this vision, I am dedicated to the acquisition of federal grant funding to support this project and others like it.

Support Local Shelters for Housing Emergencies

There is no shortage of amazing non-profit organizations stepping up throughout the First District to help address the challenges of unsheltered people in our communities – from the Talbot Interfaith Shelter in Easton, Martin’s House and Barn in Ridgely, His Hope Ministries in Denton, Diakonia in Ocean City, the Lower Shore Shelter in Princess Anne, Christian Shelter in Salisbury, Deep Roots at Clairvaux Farm in Earlville, to Welcome One in Belcamp (just to name a few). I will be a fierce advocate for helping to deliver necessary federal funds to help address these challenges and support our community partners. For too long, rural homelessness has been an afterthought in Congress. My first priority in this area is to hold the Department of Housing and Urban Development accountable for implementing and funding the Rural Housing Stability Assistance Program. In 2009 the federal HEARTH Act (the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing) was passed, which repealed the Rural Homeless Housing Assistance program (which had never been implemented or funded!) and replaced it with the Rural Housing Stability Assistance program – which STILL has not been implemented or funded. This is what happens when we do not have a true voice inside the Congress advocating for us – our rural interests are too often ignored.

Champion Community Development Block Grants

One of the main federal investments in assisting with local community development projects is the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), which provides annual grants on a formula basis to states, cities, and counties to help communities carry out a range of activities to build more resilient neighborhoods and rehabilitated housing, create new or retain existing jobs, promote economic development, and improve community facilities and services.

 

For CDBG purposes, Harford County and Salisbury are considered federal entitlement jurisdictions in the First District and do not need to compete for funding. They receive a direct annual allocation from the state’s funding formula instead of competing against other jurisdictions.

 

Of the remaining 30% of funds that are distributed to small cities, the money is earmarked for towns with populations of low- and moderate-income persons making up more than 51% of the community’s population. The First District is home to many communities where this threshold is met, including: Betterton, Cambridge, Cecilton, Chestertown, Crisfield, Federalsburg, Galestown, Henderson, Hurlock, Mardela Springs, Marydel, Pittsville, Pocomoke City, Port Deposit, Princess Anne, Secretary, Snow Hill, and Templeville.

 

I will be a champion for CDBG annual funding allotments to match the growing needs in our region and for our communities in the First District to get our fair share of available federal resources allotted to Maryland under this program.

Promote Tourism

The First District is ripe to grow its offerings of Heritage Tourism, Ecotourism, Agritourism, and Sports Tourism offerings with the help of additional federal funds and convenor support from enthusiastic and visionary stakeholders who see and understand the potential for our region to be an economic engine for tourism dollars.

 

The American Rescue Plan allocated a supplemental $750 million to the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration’s Travel, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation program. State tourism grants were slated to receive $510 million of that. In February 2022, the Maryland tourism industry received $9.6 million in federal funding from this allotment. The remaining $240 million will be distributed as competitive grants to communities that shouldered the brunt of the pandemic’s impact on these sectors. I recognize the importance of travel, tourism, and outdoor recreation to our region’s economic health and will advocate annually for sufficient funds to be dedicated to the EDA for this purpose and will assist grant applicants in the First District to get our fair share of these resources.

 

I applaud the work of Senator Chris Van Hollen and Congressman John Sarbanes to explore the designation of a Chesapeake National Recreational Area managed by the National Park Service. A unified national park designation would deliver additional federal resources to the region and encourage economic growth across the Watershed. The Bay’s natural, cultural, historical, and recreational significance deserves recognition for the American treasure that it is.

 

The First District would also benefit from efforts by bike and pedestrian coalitions to connect communities on the Eastern Shore through a robust regional trail network, which has my full support to see this effort grow from vision to implementation over the coming years.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was signed by President Biden on November 15, 2021 and is a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s infrastructure and competitiveness. These new dedicated resources for improving broadband connectivity, ports, bridges, roads, rail, airports, water and sewer, and utilities will be made available through a combination of federal programs, grants or state funding allocations. Andy Harris voted against this law. He has no voice in Congress to leverage our district’s fair share of these resources. I am ready to make sure the First District is competitively situated to adequately address our community’s needs. You can also count on me to make annual requests for the funding necessary to keep our infrastructure resilient.

Broadband

Rapid deployment of reliable high-speed internet connectivity for our rural communities is needed to address the digital divide and enhance our ability to be competitive in a modern economy. This issue consistently ranks as one of our top economic needs on the Eastern Shore.

 

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law commits $42.5 billion nationally to establish the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program (BEADP) to be administered by the Department of Commerce. Maryland is expected to receive at least $100 million in additional broadband funds from BEADP; this is in addition to $400 million in federal investment for Maryland that Governor Hogan and the state legislature recently devoted to the “Connect Maryland” plan to deliver high-speed broadband to all Maryland residents by 2025.

 

To receive federal BEADP funding, states must complete a 5-year action plan that outlines spending priorities for un-and-underserved households, community anchor institutions (schools, libraries, health care facilities), mapping broadband data, and establishing programs to provide affordable devices. My role is to assure that the First District is adequately represented in this plan – from last mile connection needs to making sure customers have competitive pricing from multiple internet service providers, not price gouging from a monopoly company. The Maryland Broadband Cooperative and the Rural Maryland Council are leading stakeholders and partners in this work.

 

In addition, we will advocate that 3rd and 4th generation networks are not disabled when systems upgrade to 5G technology. Many rural residents still lack access to 4G and LTE networks and have had to rely on the older 3G networks. Rather than fully extend the 4G and LTE networks in rural areas, carriers are racing to deploy the 5G network in urban areas. Worse yet, these carriers are in the process of shutting down the meager 3G networks that rural residents rely on, making older phones obsolete and leaving many without a properly functioning data network. To address this, our plan proposes requiring: carriers to do more to inform affected customers that their devices will no longer work; the FCC to work with carriers to guarantee data coverage to rural areas while upgrades are made to 5G technology; and the FCC to expand their Lifeline Program to allow people to use it to purchase new devices if they have ones that will no longer work after 3G is shut down.

Electric Vehicle Charging

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides funding to states to promote the development of reliable electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in two forms: formula funding for the development of a national network, and a competitive grant program that will support innovative approaches to ensure that charger deployment prioritizes rural charging, local air quality, and EV charging access in disadvantaged communities. We might not be the first region to be early adopters of EVs, but we also should not be the last consideration for setting up the technology that encourages our adoption and use of these vehicles. The U.S. Departments of Transportation and Energy already announced that Maryland is receiving more than $9 million in formula funding with guidance pending on the competitive grant program. My congressional office will work closely with Maryland state officials to make sure our region is included in plans for building out rural EV charging stations. 

Ports, Marinas, Waterways

Maryland will receive an undetermined amount of new federal funding for its ports. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes $5 billion exclusively for port programs and an additional $27 billion over 5 years for which ports would be eligible to apply.

 

Salisbury is home to the second-busiest port in Maryland on the navigation channel of the Wicomico River. It currently has six privately-owned terminals or facilities, which handled just over a million tons of cargo in 2019. This river channel is maintained by regular dredging supported by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which is a cost of over $4 million annually. The USACE designates “economically significant” projects as those supporting more than one million tons of cargo annually. Ensuring this annual metric is met is important to the sustained support of Salisbury’s marine transportation system. As the City of Salisbury moves towards the creation of a port authority to develop a multi-user public marine facility, our EconomyFirst plan supports securing federal grant funding for this work to expand the Salisbury Port.

 

In Ocean City, I support plans to dredge a navigable channel to the Convention Center Pier Area, as well as adding floating docks and a water taxi terminal at the convention center boardwalk. We should be able to secure some federal funds to assist with this vision for economic development in Worcester County.

 

Communities throughout the First District are home to important marinas for recreational boating in our region and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Boating Infrastructure Grant (BIG) program is a significant source of annual funding that can be targeted for use in maintaining, revitalizing, and growing our recreational boating infrastructure. We will compete for these funds to keep our marinas a strong and growing force for regional economic growth.

 

I also propose an innovative Eastern Shore of Maryland Regional Dredging Needs Assessment project to develop a priority dredging schedule for our waterways that can project our needs and obtain funding for 5 to 10 years in advance. More details on this proposal are included in the Commercial Fishing section of this plan.

Freight Rail

Freight rail moves goods through the Eastern Shore on two shortline railroads operated by the Maryland & Delaware Railroad Company and the Delmarva Central Railroad Company. There is an active campaign to grow this business for our region and I will be its federal advocate. Upgrading and relocating tracks, grade crossings, and deployment of railroad safety technology are among the projects eligible for funding under the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure & Safety Improvements Grant program ($1 billion annually over 5 years) within the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. These upgrades have the potential of spurring economic development within existing vacant industrial properties located on rail siding that could be developed into continued rail use.

Public Transit

The quality and availability of mass transit options varies throughout the First District. I support existing programs and services while also envisioning opportunities that would expand and improve mass transit options in our region.

 

A survey of current transit services in the First District:

 

  • Harford County is served by connection lines to the MARC train system (Perryville, Aberdeen, Edgewood) and its commuter buses which also extend to Queen Anne’s County for Park & Ride services (Kent Narrows, Kent Island, Stevensville).
  • Cecil Transit and Harford Transit buses and taxi voucher programs cover Aberdeen, Havre de Grace, Perryville, Charlestown, North East, and Elkton.
  • MUST (Maryland Upper Shore Transit) is a collaborative public transportation effort between Delmarva Community Transit and Queen Anne’s County, County Ride. This regional bus system is a fixed route transportation service covering Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot, Caroline, and Dorchester Counties.
  • Shore Transit is a fixed route commuter bus service in Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester counties.

Planning

I propose undertaking a comprehensive planning process to review the adequacy of existing transit services and the gaps that must be addressed to meet our public transportation needs of the First District. Our region would benefit from a robust planning process to reimagine public transit possibilities that could shape our communities over the next ten years.

 

Comprehensive First District Public Transit Planning could answer questions such as:

 

  • Are the current MARC train stops sufficiently serving our population growth along the existing routes? Are there any additional communities that should have station stops added? Are the commuter bus services adequately serving our region?
  • Are the Harford and Cecil County Transit buses serving these connected communities in a coordinated way? Are there opportunities for efficiencies, collaborations, and route improvements?
  • What would a next generation transit plan for the Eastern Shore look like? Are there public-private partnerships that could be cultivated, encouraged, and rewarded to fill the gaps in regional services? What are our working and commute patterns suggesting are the biggest public transportation needs for our region?
  • How are the transportation concerns of retired and elderly residents needing help with activities of daily living and health care different from the needs of commuters seeking job opportunities in other regions of our district?
  • What would local small business owners say is their “wish list” of transit support services for their employees and customer base?
  • What would employers like to see made available within our region’s transportation infrastructure to support their economic growth and the needs of their workforce?
  • What are the safe biking and walking paths needed to accompany our public transportation vision?

 

These and other questions need to be on the table as we come together to envision our region’s public transit future. Under EconomyFirst, we will compete for federal funding to help support this planning process.

 

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $200 million annually for planning grants for transportation investment priorities under the Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Highway Administration. Planning activities supported under these grants include the development of transportation plans and programs; planning, design, and evaluation of a public transportation program, and technical studies related to such projects. Importantly, changes to this program now allow a greater than 80 percent federal share for transportation planning in rural areas and lower-density or lower-income portions of metropolitan areas.

 

In addition, I propose competing for our fair share of funding from the Formula Grants for Rural Areas program which provides capital, planning, and operating assistance to states to support public transportation in rural areas with populations less than 50,000. The program also provides funding for state and national training and technical assistance through the federal Rural Transportation Assistance Program. Eligible recipients for formula grants are states, local government authorities, nonprofit organizations, and operators of public transportation bus services. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law increased funding for these grants to more than $4.58 billion over 5 years to support 1,300 rural transit systems and ours in the First District should be among those vying for and receiving these needed resources.

 

A new program funded under this law also provides an additional $1 billion on a competitive basis for essential ferry service in rural areas, giving us an opportunity to seek support for the Oxford Bellevue Ferry (Oxford / Talbot County), the Whitehaven Ferry (Quantico / Wicomico County) and Upper Ferry (Salisbury / Wicomico County) and to consider other essential ferry connections that could be developed with federal support.

Modernization

In addition to planning for expanding commuter bus services, I propose seeking federal money to upgrade and repair our aging transit infrastructure, and to modernize our bus and rail fleets.

 

America’s transit systems have a combined repair backlog of an estimated $105 billion. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $23.1 billion over 5 years for State of Good Repair Grants for repair and maintenance of transit systems. There is also $5.6 billion over 5 years to fund Low-or No-Emission Bus Grants to transition buses to lower/no-emission vehicles in transit fleets. First District transit modernization backlogs should compete for our share of these resources.

Airports

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law dedicates $25 billion over 5 years to airport repair and maintenance backlogs. The First District is home to Crisfield Airport, Salisbury-Ocean City Wicomico Regional Airport, Easton Airport, and Cambridge-Dorchester Regional Airport. I support projects that range from the construction of additional hangars and cargo areas to runway extensions that would attract additional carriers and businesses at our airports.

Water, Sewer, and Utilities

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law includes $55 billion allocated for drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure funding. Much of this funding is a formula-based distribution to states but a few grant programs worth highlighting for our region include:

 

  • Wastewater Energy Efficiency Grant Pilot Program ($100 million / 5 years) to create or improve waste-to-energy systems. This could help further scale up a project like Planet Found Energy Development’s efforts to treat poultry litter and convert it into renewable energy, potting soils, and fertilizers while eliminating liquid discharge. More details on this exciting Lower Shore project are included in the wastewater treatment section of the Commercial Fishing section of this plan. Clean Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Grant Program ($125 million / 5 years) to help communities prepare their drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure to meet the threats posed by increasing instances of extreme weather and changing hydrological conditions. The entire region of the First District is impacted by rising tides, coastal flooding, and extreme weather incidents.
  • EPA Sewer Overflow & Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grant Program ($1.4 billion / 5 years) is dedicating no less than ¼ of its funding to support rural and financially disadvantaged communities. We have a backlog of water infrastructure and wastewater treatment infrastructure needs (new wells, pumping stations, piping upgrades, failing treatment plants, etc.) throughout the First District that should compete for these resources.
  • The Rural and Low-Income Water Assistance Pilot Program will establish a new EPA program to provide grants to utilities to assist low-income rate payers. A separate program dedicates $200 million / 5 years to connect homes to publicly owned treatment works, a need specifically in rural areas.

 

Our nation’s electric transmission and distribution facilities are also in need of modernization and infrastructure support. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law devotes $5 billion in funding to the Department of Energy to establish a competitive grant program to fund energy grid resilience projects. Half of this funding goes directly to transmission owners and operators (like Delmarva Power) and the other half is distributed to states to develop programs in coordination with municipal entities and rural electric cooperatives (like Choptank Electric) on a cost-shared basis. There is an additional $1 billion set aside for rural and remote areas for this purpose. This funding will support a range of activities such as weatherization technologies and equipment, utility pole management, undergrounding of electrical equipment, relocation of power lines, replacement of old overhead conductors and underground cables, to name a few. Under our EconomyFirst plan, I will be a vocal advocate in securing these resources for the First District.

In addition to the vision we outlined supporting foundational farmers through our Agri-Climate solutions policy, our EconomyFirst plan promotes next-level ag innovators who are looking to match their entrepreneurial spirit with market opportunities that will connect more growers and processors with a consumer base interested in local foods, products, services, and niche experiences to keep our local agricultural economies strong.

Foundational Farming

I am a tireless advocate for farmers in the First District to get the federal funding, technical assistance, and policy support they need to thrive. Our Agri-Climate Solutions for Maryland’s Eastern Shore is a comprehensive and innovative plan to support farmers as they work to adapt to climate change and to reward those who employ climate-friendly practices. At the heart of this proposal is the creation of a National Soil Health Initiative, which would reform conservation programs to reward practices that sequester carbon, help farmers adapt to saltwater intrusion, and provide farmers with the technical assistance many need to implement these practices. The Agri-Climate plan also calls for reforming the Federal Crop Insurance Program so major climate polluters chip into the program to keep insurance premiums from rising as claims increase from more severe weather. The plan also calls for lowering crop insurance premiums for farmers who employ climate-friendly practices. Farmers are the closest to the land and should be the nation’s priority partners in driving climate solutions.

Accelerate Accelerators

Business start-up accelerator programs offer mentorship, capital, and connections to businesses with a minimum viable product to help them rapidly scale growth. F3 Tech (Farm-Fish-Food) Accelerator, operated by the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center, advances innovation and technology within the agriculture, aquaculture, and environmental sectors. The F3 Accelerator helps expedite commercialization, attract investors, accelerate manufacturing, customer acquisition, and revenue development. F3 Tech has developed meaningful programs of support for local entrepreneurs, such as the Chesapeake Agriculture Innovation Center. In Harford County, The Grove is an agri-business incubator for local area farmers, artists and food processors to sell their products directly to consumers and to actively promote agriculture commerce and sustainability in Harford County. The U.S. Economic Development Administration helps to fund the work of accelerators like F3 Tech and The Grove and my congressional office will advocate for an expansion of funding to grow this work in our region and help accelerators extend their reach to assist more entrepreneurs.

Value-Added Agricultural Production

Value-Added Agriculture (VAA) includes products that are altered, processed, marketed, or produced in a way that increases its worth to the consumer and generates more revenue for the producer, processor, or farmer. This can come through a growing “cottage food” industry, organic farming specialties, dairy, hemp, craft beverages (distilled spirits / beer / wine / ciders / meads / kombuchas), on-farm food processing, packaging, drying, milling, malting, and other categories.

 

The Business Economic and Community Outreach Network (BEACON) of Salisbury University found that Maryland’s VAA industry supports nearly 75,000 jobs and creates a total state economic impact of over $20.6 billion annually.

 

These growing industries need a regulatory and fiscal champion at the federal level.

 

Most federal food safety regulations have been constructed for large producers, not for local foods. Current guidelines are geared towards large facilities handling large volumes and what is needed to assure food safety under those conditions is not the same as for smaller producers of value-added agriculture. In Congress, I will advocate for regulatory reforms that relieve some of this burden for VAA farmers and businesses.

 

I will also be a champion for increased federal funding to support additional Value Added Producer Grants (VAPG) from the USDA’s Rural Business Cooperative Service. This VAPG program provides planning and/or capital investment for VAA enterprises. The planning grants offer maximum awards of $75,000 for feasibility studies, business plans, marketing plans, and legal evaluations. The working capital grants offer maximum awards of $250,000 to purchase inventory, office equipment and supplies; pay salaries, utilities, office rent; cover legal and accounting costs; conduct marketing campaigns; or develop branding and packaging materials.

 

I will explore opportunities in future Farm Bills to create and advance funding for the creation of new regional Agribusiness Development Corporations in rural communities that can assist with marketing, assess and administer grants for VAA and agritourism, act as a regulatory ombudsman, and encourage the growth and establishment of food and agriculture support businesses such as: local meat processing facilities, shared-use commercial kitchens, and food aggregation hubs, to name a few.

 

One exciting new shared-use commercial kitchen in the First District is the minority and woman-owned Four Eleven Kitchen, which is designed to empower, elevate, and establish a thriving food entrepreneur community in Cambridge and the greater Mid-Shore region. This $3.2 million investment at the renovated Phillips Packing House will create an economic opportunity for local food processors to benefit from the shared use facility’s focus on dropping barriers for equipment and training.

 

I also support efforts in Caroline County to create a food aggregation hub at the Chesapeake Culinary Center in Denton and in partnership with the Chesapeake Ag Innovation Center. Immediate plans are for processing and freezing local produce but the long-range plans seeking funding support are to create a processing and aggregation facility that would offer: Farm to Freezer (processing for wholesale, retail, and institutional markets); Value-Added products and co-packing operations; cold and freezer storage; ready meals prepared and frozen; food lab and innovation center; conference rooms and classrooms. This plan is ready to go and needs funding partners. My congressional office will partner and work aggressively to bring federal funding support to this project.

Agricultural Marketing and Agritourism

I support engaging stakeholders and securing federal funds to promote the awareness of local agriculture through agritourism and marketing events like Farm to Fork dinners, Buy Local Challenges, Community Supported Agriculture, and the growth of robust area Farmers’ Markets.

 

Agritourism promotion is another strategic effort to grow marketplace connections between our growers/producers and consumers, often providing an experience at an on-farm site for education, recreation, retreats, and retail sales. Agritourism is often connected with the Value-Added Agriculture sector.

 

One example of local agritourism is Crow Farm Vineyard and Winery in Kent County, where they offer a winery and tasting room, a farmstay bed and breakfast, sell grass-fed black angus beef, and host farm-to-table dinners and events.

 

Another fun example of First District Agritourism is Shore Craft Beer, an initiative launched by OceanCity.com to make the Shore a local craft beer destination area. There are more than 26 craft breweries open for business on the Shore, and that number continues to grow. By marketing them together on pub / brewery tours and engaging hotels and restaurants to cater to this growing interest and offer “beercation” packages, all craft breweries can benefit from collective support and promotion through agritourism. Through the support of the Rural Maryland Council, there is now a new Shore Craft Beer App so enthusiasts can have all the local breweries, events, and offerings from these local producers at their fingertips.

Forestry

One-third of Maryland’s timber resources are located on the Eastern Shore. Our key species are pines, soft maple, sweetgum, and oak, of which 36% become sawlogs and 64% become pulpwood. The industry generates $113 million in revenue and supports approximately 822 jobs at 128 businesses. Mill closures and limited capacity to process large timber has created challenges for the industry. However, a new wood pellet mill was recently added on the Shore and piling manufacturing has expanded. 2021 also saw the reopening of a sawmill.

 

With federal funding from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, a Maryland Forestry Economic Adjustment Strategy (EAS) was developed in 2021 to create a coordinated strategy to strengthen the industry across the state.

 

In addition to assisting with the implementation of the EAS, I will help the Eastern Shore compete for grant funding under the USDA Forest Service that supports the development and expanded use of wood products (Wood Innovations Grants), strengthens emerging wood energy systems and markets (Community Wood Grants), and protects community forests (Community Forest Grants).

Maryland’s blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries are an iconic national treasure, delivered to homes and commercial businesses through the hard work of our state’s watermen. We supply more blue crabs and soft clams to the U.S. seafood market than any other state in the nation. Maryland’s other important commercial species includes striped bass, perch, oysters, bluefish, flounder, spot, croaker, sea trout, and catfish.

 

The Maryland seafood industry is a significant contributor to our state and regional economy. Commercial landings of blue crabs, striped bass, and Eastern oysters in Maryland totaled nearly 31 million pounds in 2020 at a value of over $60 million.

 

In addition to wild commercial fishing, Maryland has a robust and growing aquaculture industry that “farms the water” to produce prawns, tilapia, catfish, yellow perch, hybrid striped bass, crawfish, trout, eels, oysters, and soft crabs at an estimated market value in Maryland of over $18 million in 2017.

 

As your congresswoman, I will be a champion for both the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries to help each grow and thrive for generations to come.

Oysters

First, a word about the controversy over oyster harvesting.

 

Oysters are natural pollution filters and a critical component of the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem. Known as the “kidneys of the bay,” one adult oyster is capable of filtering 50 gallons of water per day, helping to remove excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus and eating algae blooms that block the flow of light in the water. Oysters also provide critical habitat to other species (such as crabs, worms, and smaller fish) who live among the oyster reefs.

 

In recent years there has been a growing political division that pits aquaculture’s process of managed and leased oyster beds against wild oyster harvesting. There has been talk in some circles of eliminating the wild oyster harvest altogether as an approach to helping the oyster population rebound and instead leaning in only on the promising future of aquaculture. This is a non-starter. We need both. This is not an either-or proposition. We need an all-of-the-above strategy to repopulate our beloved oysters in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. It will take the skill, insight, and wisdom of our watermen in the commercial fishing industry working and managing the wild populations as well as the hard work of those placing spat on shells in leased oyster beds and sanctuaries for us to achieve our common goals.

 

My congressional office will be a federal partner to find and target resources, regulatory support, and stakeholder engagement necessary to implement the consensus recommendations of the state’s recent Oyster Advisory Commission’s final report. This includes:

 

  • Shell and Substrate Resource Recommendations:
    • Identifying and obtaining sources of shells and substrate
    • Strategies to provide economic incentives to retain shell in Maryland and reuse it
    • Evaluating the ability of bar cleaning in low / underperforming harvest areas to promote improved spat sets
  • Monitoring and Marking Recommendations:
    • Improving the Fall Dredge Survey
    • Improving markings for navigation hazards and oyster management boundaries
  • Management Action Recommendations (to rebuild oyster populations, enhance harvest revenue, increase habitat, reduce nitrogen and phosphorous in the Bay):
    • Fund spat planting in sanctuaries
    • Fund spat and shell planting on fishery bars
    • Fund replenishment plantings on oyster fishery bottom
    • Keep wild oyster fishery open
  • Business Practices and Marketing Recommendations:
    • Improve cooperation and engagement among groups and integrate projects across fishery, aquaculture, and restoration
    • Improve processor capabilities (more shucking houses, develop frozen product)
    • Dedicate bars north of Bay Bridge as “investments” against disease outbreaks in lower Bay
    • Use nutrient credit opportunities to help finance restoration on sanctuaries and replenish public fishery bottom in the Bay
  • Improved Science Recommendations:
    • Conduct a comprehensive survey of the Maryland Bay bottom with a focus on describing the current amount, quality, and location of oyster habitat
    • Develop the ability to make stock assessment projections of abundance and harvest
    • Determine ways to reduce sedimentation

Commercial Fishing

Our strategies in this area must always include the advice and insight of those closest to the water who know this industry best: the watermen. Maryland’s watermen carry generations of wisdom and insight about the ways of the Bay. They have more to lose than anyone if the waterways are unhealthy and the ecosystems endangered – their very livelihoods depend on this. We must always be dedicated to incorporating their observations into our first line of tactics and strategies for engaging the challenges we face.

 

Talk to any waterman and he will tell you that the biggest threat to wild oysters and crabs is the quality of the water in which they live and grow. And this is true for all the precious habitats of the Bay.

 

Of the many strategies we must undertake to address improving our waterways, I will focus on these:

 

  • improved dredging schedules and funding;
  • collaborating with regional partners to clean up the sediment overflow at the Conowingo Dam;
  • dedicating infrastructure resources to strengthen wastewater treatment facilities and improve their discharge impacts on the Bay’s tributaries;
  • supporting promising new technologies to address the challenges of excess agricultural run-off polluting the Bay;
  • fixing the broken H-2B visa guest worker program; and
  • staying vigilant about monitoring and addressing water-borne diseases like MSX and Dermo.


Dredging

Securing funds for dredging will be an ongoing project to support commerce and leisure on waterways throughout the First District. Safe navigation of waterways is vital to the economy, culture, and quality of life for our region. Inadequate water depths are extremely dangerous for watermen, recreational boaters, and commercial industries. In addition to advocating for more federal dredging resources to be allocated to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, our plan proposes developing an Eastern Shore of Maryland Regional Dredging Needs Assessment under resources available from the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (under the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, as amended). The goal of this work is to have a waterway dredging project schedule for 5 to 10 years rather than on an annual or last-minute emergency basis. By creating a comprehensive strategic plan for waterway projects, we can forecast funding needs and do better long-term planning to obtain necessary permits. This work would also support a regional sediment management plan that could explore using dredging materials for coastal flood mitigation projects.

Conowingo Dam

Excess silt and sediment flowing down the Susquehanna River from the Conowingo Dam is a particular challenge for our region. This pollution is generated upstream, primarily in Pennsylvania. The dam’s reservoir which traps pollutants is full. Heavy rain events cause flows of water to dislodge debris, sediment, and pollution from the reservoir behind the dam, causing it to spill into the lower Susquehanna River (and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay). A Maryland state study found that, on average, 20 percent of the sediment entering the Bay during storm events originates from the Conowingo Dam.

 

Our plan proposes collaborating with the Environmental Protection Agency and bipartisan members of the Congressional Chesapeake Bay Watershed Caucus to oversee implementation of the Conowingo Watershed Implementation Plan with an urgency to address this pollution challenge – including using federal resources to incentivize state matching funds to adequately fund the CWIP’s goals.

Wastewater Treatment

Wastewater is used water and includes all the liquid waste from homes, offices, schools, industrial buildings, surface runoff from stormwater, or agricultural wastewater generated from confined animal operations. This water must be treated before it is released back into the environment. Keeping our water clean supports fisheries, wildlife habitats, recreation and quality of life as well as public health.

 

The Chesapeake Bay is home to 472 municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants, and there are significant new federal resources dedicated to wastewater treatment facility upgrades. This work is vital to the health of our waterways and the fisheries that watermen rely on for their livelihoods.

 

Another key component to cleaning up our waterways will be finding innovative solutions to address agricultural runoff. The Eastern Shore is home to some of the highest concentrations of broilers in the country with the poultry industry employing thousands of Marylanders in our region. For decades, excessive chicken litter was applied directly to agricultural fields, resulting in high nutrient levels in the Bay, algae blooms, and dead zones. How to properly manage excess poultry litter has been an ongoing challenge for our region, but an innovative public-private partnership may offer a sustainable solution to this problem.

 

Planet Found Energy Development is a Maryland-based company of scientists, farmers, and business leaders dedicated to developing manure management technologies that will safeguard the environment as well as the economic viability of our agricultural communities in the Chesapeake Bay Region. Planet Found has built a patent-pending system for treating poultry litter and converting it into renewable energy, potting soils, and fertilizers while eliminating liquid discharge. In the process, the majority of phosphorus introduced to the system is captured as a phosphorus-based fertilizer, removing it from the nutrient cycle in sensitive agricultural and ecological environments.

 

This project is currently being piloted on the Lower Shore in Pocomoke City but it is about to be scaled up for greater commercialization and environmental value. Planet Found has purchased 20 acres at the Princess Anne Maryland Industrial Park, where they will spend $26 million to construct a facility on nine of those acres that will be able to process 30,000 tons of poultry litter each year – while creating an additional 22 jobs for the region.

 

As innovations like this one come to market, there is an opportunity to use agricultural technology to solve some of the most stubborn environmental challenges created by certain farming practices. Reducing agricultural runoff into our waterways and lowering our phosphorus nutrient loads will dramatically improve the health of our Chesapeake Bay. Doing so by investing in and scaling up technologies that transform poultry litter into value-added products for commercial sale is a win-win-win.

 

My office will be dedicated to making sure Maryland is able to compete for our fair share of $238 million in new federal grants that will soon be administered through the Region III EPA Office. These funds, dedicated under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, are specifically targeted to helping with the goal of cleaning the Chesapeake Bay.

Fixing the H-2B Visa Program

Maryland’s blue crab industry relies heavily on a federal visa program which allows businesses to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis for seasonal non-agricultural jobs like seafood processing. The annual cap for these visas is set at 66,000 for the country, which is far fewer than the demand. For the six months covering the crabbing season, there were 135,000 visa requests for only 33,000 slots. There is a lottery system that is used to allocate the H-2B visas to American businesses needing them. For 2022, only one of Maryland’s ten crab picking houses involved in the program received needed visas for their workers. This has a devastating impact on the entire seafood economy of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

 

To fix this program, our plan proposes several new strategies. We must:

 

  • Reinstate the returning workers provision which allows an automatic renewal of a visa for any returning worker without it counting against the annual cap. Congress included this language in budget bills for fiscal years 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2016 but in no year since. The returning worker provision should be automatically renewed each year.
  • Expand the number of annual visas included under the cap to be in alignment with an annual survey of projected industry needs and explore a seafood industry carve-out under the cap.
  • Fix the alignment of supplemental visa start dates with the seasonal employment calendar. For example, in FY22, Congress recently made available an additional 20,000 visas under the annual H-2B visa cap; however, these visas are limited to employers hiring individuals by March 31, 2022 . Maryland’s crabbing season is April 1 – September 30. This provision works against Maryland’s seafood industry benefiting from the additional visas and leaves our packing houses without needed workers during the picking season. An effective advocate for our watermen and seafood industry would make sure these new visas are not reserved for use by other states before our crabbing season even begins.
  • Eliminate the failed lottery process and replace it with a better system. The government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers under the H-2B visa system. Lotteries do not work. Ideally, pairing the returning workers provision with an increase in allotments under the cap to align with annual industry surveys, we can get at our goal of having enough workers to meet the demand. In any season where the need for workers outstrips the allotments available under the cap, we could replace the lottery with a Governor’s state of emergency declaration which would call on the federal government to provide assistance with fast-tracking additional visas for that state’s approved needs.


Waterborne Disease Prevention

Finally, our work must include vigilance regarding monitoring and addressing waterborne diseases like MSX and Dermo which can decimate the public fisheries if left unchecked. While we have been in good shape in recent years, these diseases thrive in high salinity and warm waters, all of which have the potential to become more common with the threats of climate change. As additional federal legislation and funding opportunities arise to address the impacts of the climate crisis, we must keep policymakers focused on the need to fund this important work.

Aquaculture

The First District is home to a robust and growing economic presence from a range of private and public aquaculture assets in our region.

 

Located in Dorchester County, Blue Oyster Environmental is a cutting-edge oyster aquaculture and nutrient credit broker, selling oyster farmer credits to municipalities and businesses looking to lower their sediment discharge numbers. The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load has created an environment where the role of oysters in nutrient cycling of phosphorus and nitrogen can be monetized via a nutrient trading or offset program. My office will assist the vision of BOE to become a regional leader in establishing this new credit trading market.

 

Ferry Cove Shellfish is a commercial oyster hatchery on 70 acres in Talbot County that sells oyster larvae and seed to commercial growers.

 

Hoopers Island Oyster Co. is an oyster farm located in Dorchester County that is a leading manufacturer of oyster aquaculture equipment that is designed, fabricated, and tested by watermen. They also sell seed and oysters and provide consulting to start up operations.

 

AquaCon plans to build a $300 million indoor salmon farm in Federalsburg in Caroline County. By 2024, they aim to harvest 3 million fish annually, weighing 14,000 metric tons, and creating 150 jobs to start. They have a ten-year plan that includes building two more land-based salmon farms on the Eastern Shore. Use of land-based recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) are showing promising results for environmental impacts and help reduce food imports.

 

Oyster farms throughout the region run from places like Orchard Point Oyster on the Chester River and Eastern Bay in Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties, Harris Creek Oyster Co. and Mudgies Oyster Farm in Talbot County, Pirates Cove Oyster Company in Dorchester County, to Coastal Maryland Oyster Company in Worcester County, just to name a few. We are even home to coral reef and clam farming specialists at Pacific East Aquaculture in Wicomico County.

 

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science operates the Horn Point Oyster Hatchery in Dorchester County which produces oyster larvae for research, restoration, and education projects. Spawning oysters from the Horn Point Hatchery have deployed over one billion spat to the waters of the Chesapeake Bay over the past decade.

 

The Maryland Sea Grant, one of 34 university-based programs across the county, is federally funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and is housed under the UM Center for Environmental Science, and supports the work of Extension agents and specialists who provide technical assistance to support Maryland’s aquaculture industry as well as the restoration of wild oysters in the Bay.

 

In October 2021, NOAA announced a 5-year, $30 million grant to support the Living Marine Resources Science Center at University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) which conducts collaborative research projects in areas such as stock assessment, essential fish habitat, and sustainable aquaculture.

 

Through these examples, it is easy to see how the aquaculture industry’s presence is growing in our region. My office will work with the First District’s aquaculture industry to determine opportunities for additional federal grants and financial assistance services.

 

An example of some of these federally-available resources include NOAA’s Competitive Grant Programs for Aquaculture:

 

  • Fisheries Finance Program provides long-term (up to 25 years) fixed rate financing for the costs of refurbishing, modernization or purchasing of existing fishing vessels, fisheries facilities, or aquaculture facilities
  • National Marine Aquaculture Initiative is a national competitive grant program funding aquaculture demonstrations projects and research, with a particular focus on technology development.
  • Regional Aquaculture Pilot Projects focus on promising but less commercially developed technologies for newcomers to the domestic aquaculture industry like finfish, shellfish, seaweed.

It is important to also note the need to reform this industry’s complex regulatory framework, which involves multiple jurisdictions, laws, regulations, and agencies involved in protecting public health, conserving environmental resources, and regulating commerce. My congressional office will provide oversight and engagement on the implementation of the National Science & Technology Council’s strategic plan to enhance regulatory efficiency in aquaculture.

A thriving arts and culture scene in the First District is paramount to a healthy local economy. The arts provide jobs, engage tourists interested in culture, attract and retain a creative workforce, and generate tax revenue.

 

According to the Maryland State Arts Council, in 2019, an estimated 11.2 million people attended arts events, classes, and workshops in Maryland, spending over $294 million and generating $45.7 million in state and local tax revenue.

 

The U.S. Commerce Department estimates that in 2019, Maryland added 2.7 percent or $11.7 billion to the state economy from arts and cultural production and employed 79,866 workers who earned wages and benefits totaling more than $6.3 billion. But outside of the benefits of the arts scene itself, our downtown districts and local small businesses also benefit from a thriving arts district. Restaurant and bar owners in the First District especially appreciate arts and cultural activities for driving business to their doors. We have incredible arts institutions, museums, galleries, studios, and venues – public and private – throughout the First District that deserve a relentless champion who understands the important economic role the arts play in each and every one of our communities.

 

In Congress, I will proudly advocate for funding that promotes a strong community arts scene, for the benefit of not just those who are employed by or enjoy participating in the arts, but also for local small businesses and the vitality of entire communities. My office will seek to educate stakeholders about the benefits of arts and cultural production, arts education, and the need for robust arts funding as a driver of local economies.

Our local defense industries are an important employer and contributor to national security. The First District is home to multiple federal laboratories, military bases, and a neighboring NASA flight facility:

 

  • the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center in Edgewood;
  • the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense in Edgewood;
  • the CCDC-C5ISR Center in Aberdeen;
  • and the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center (ATC), part of the U.S. Army Developmental Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC)
  • the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground
  • and NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia (neighboring us on the border with Virginia’s Eastern Shore)

Federal employees and military personnel staffing these laboratories, bases, and NASA flight facility, are an important part of the First District workforce and I am dedicated to assuring strong support and advocacy for funding requests to keep their missions strong.

Hypersonics

In recent years, there has been growing federal interest in advancing the development and production of hypersonic weapons, missiles that travel at hypersonic speed (generally defined as Mach 5 or greater). With the right foresight and advocacy, hypersonic weapon development could be centered in the First District, which is already a strong military technology hub. This could provide numerous good-paying jobs for the people of the First District.

 

In July 2021, Northrop Grumman broke ground on a Hypersonics Center of Excellence in Elkton to provide full lifecycle production for hypersonic weapons, from design and development to production and integration. Construction is expected to conclude by 2023.

The Pentagon’s FY2022 budget request for hypersonic research is $3.8 billion. Our EconomyFirst plan supports making the First District a “Hypersonics Center of Excellence” by drawing in additional federal resources to support this work through commercial industry, academia, and federal agencies and labs in our region.

 

Maryland is well-situated to grow our work in hypersonics research and testing by expanding our wind tunnel capacity and capabilities either through federal partners (laboratories and bases), private partners, or academic institutions (such as the High-Speed Aerodynamics and Propulsion Laboratory [HAPL] at the University of Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering).

 

There are appropriate questions Congress must ask as it reviews the Pentagon’s plans for U.S. hypersonic weapons programs – including rationale and feasibility, defined mission requirements, expected costs, implications for strategic stability and arms control concerns. But should the Congress move forward with ongoing investment in this work, we must put First District expertise, opportunities, and priorities at the forefront of national competition for these resources.

Cybersecurity

Maryland is home to many federal, commercial, and academic cybersecurity assets and I support putting federal resources into growing this sector’s influence in our region as an economic engine.

 

There are more than 12,000 IT and cybersecurity companies as well as more than sixty government agencies focused on cyber-crime in Maryland.

 

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocated $2 billion to cybersecurity, about half of which is dedicated to state and local governments through the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency which will fund grants over four years. The Cyber Response and Recovery Fund will receive $100 million over five years. The cybersecurity spending will reach across federal and local IT networks to help organizations respond to cyberattacks.

 

I will also advocate for federal support for private cybersecurity companies in our region as well as organizations like CyberAg – a program of the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center. CyberAg is an organization that provides cybersecurity outreach, awareness, education, and access to resources for the agriculture and food supply chain in our region.

It matters who we elect to represent us in Congress.

I hope I have earned your trust and your vote.

If you give me the honor to represent you, I will work hard every day to deliver the results I have outlined in this blueprint for economic development for our region. I dare say that in the mere writing of this plan, I have already put more thought and work into our region’s economic future than Andy Harris has devoted to this topic in almost twelve years as our Representative. I am running for Congress to be the fierce advocate we deserve; to wake up every day looking for new ways to help lower the cost of living, create better jobs, and put more money in your pockets. It’s not enough for me to make the case on why I want you to fire Andy Harris. It’s my job to make you excited to hire me. I want to work for you. I am a skilled legislator with a reputation as a pragmatic consensus builder who knows how to get things done. I ask for your trust and confidence that I will give you everything I have to take this plan and turn it into meaningful action that will improve life for you, your families, and our communities which we so dearly love. I am ready to be your Congresswoman. Let’s get to work!

Agri-Climate Solutions for Maryland’s Eastern Shore

For far too long, prevailing conventional wisdom has been that environmentalists and farmers will always be at odds over the impact of government policies, oversight, and regulation. It’s time to change that.

By adopting a collaborative approach to these issues, we can think with imagination and innovation about the ways that our agricultural communities can be a part of our climate solutions and how farmers can benefit from these practices.

We need a strategy that supports our farmers as they deal with the negative effects of climate change and one that also supports the agricultural practices that will help address the severe, immediate climate crisis that we all face.

Maryland—and especially the Eastern Shore—is highly vulnerable to the current and future effects of climate change. When it comes to rising sea levels, our region has the dual misfortune of the threat of rising waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries as well as sinking land. Our farmers stand to lose the most if we fail to act on the threats of saltwater intrusion, coastal flooding, and severe weather events—but our vibrant agricultural community also stands to benefit the most when we think creatively about how to partner for success.

Successful agricultural communities depend on the quality and health of the soil that is feeding their crops. As the effects of climate change are dramatically impacting soil conditions, we must get ahead of the curve on mitigating these challenges by supporting a robust and visionary plan to create a new project called the National Soil Health Initiative (NSHI) through the USDA that would address the problems of saltwater intrusion, reform key conservation programs, and leverage greater use of carbon farming which can boost soil health and store carbon in the soil, positively impact the climate crisis, and contribute to agricultural resilience. This project could begin as a pilot program for the Delmarva / Chesapeake Bay region to prove its benefits before rolling it out as a national program.

Farming Carbon: Soil-Based Sequestration

While certain agricultural practices can release net carbon emissions, others do the opposite by sequestering carbon from the atmosphere into the soil. Scientists estimate that each year, soils could sequester over a billion extra tons of carbon. However, we must support the implementation and continuation of carbon storing practices to achieve maximum soil carbon outcomes.

There is a growing carbon credit market providing an opportunity for farmers to get paid for mitigating the effects of climate change through soil-based carbon sequestration.

Large corporations who want to offset their carbon footprint are in the market to buy carbon credits. Farmers generate carbon credits they can sell in this marketplace when they go through the process of certifying and calculating the carbon they store in the soil through practices using cover crops, diversified crop rotation, use of natural inputs such as compost, conversion to perennial grasses and other conservation cover, reducing chemical inputs, and pastured rotational animal production, to name a few.

To address this potential, the NSHI will invest in research to test and identify optimal carbon storage practices and will facilitate the tracking and measurement of organic matter and soil carbon to help drive best practices and maximize participation in carbon markets. The program will assist with the transition to and continuation of practices which achieve optimal per-acre carbon storage.

The National Soil Health Initiative will expand and scale opportunities for more farms to sequester carbon in the soil by providing:

  • Technical assistance and educational resources for land managers and farmers seeking to measure their carbon sequestration efforts and to learn techniques that are best suited for their land and which will optimize soil carbon storage.
  • Financial incentives that will drive adoption (including transition costs, financial risk management, and grants for equipment needs). The USDA will explore utilizing the Commodity Credit Corporation to pilot best practices that store carbon in soil, utilizing an outcomes-based rather than performance-based framework for incentive payments.
  • Research & Development that will set a centralized, coordinated, and expanded research vision for this work within the USDA.
  • Technology incentives for equipment modification so that compost turners, roller-crimpers, no-till vegetable seeders, flame weeders, and other necessary tools for regenerative farming practices are available and affordable for mid/small-sized farms
  • Measurement, monitoring, and verification will be improved through new processes, standards, software technologies, and data inventories through robust soil surveys needed to advance soil carbon science. Critically important soil health parameters such as organic matter and soil carbon will be measured and verified.

Reforming Conservation Programs

The USDA has an alphabet soup of programs that collectively work to conserve land by compensating farmers and landowners who voluntarily engage in conservation practices. The NSHI will advance some key reforms to these programs by:

  • Increasing rental payments under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for projects tied to climate-conscious practices that focus on increasing organic matter, soil carbon, and soil health as well as better management of nutrient runoff into waterways. CRP will also add educational and technical assistance programs to inform landowners of available programs and assist with participation and enrollment.
  • Updating the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) to give weighted priority to projects devoted to soil-boosting practices which provide optimal per-acre carbon storage outcomes.
  • Using the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to provide federal bonus payments to farmers enrolled in state cover crop programs, effectively leveraging additional state funds for this purpose and maximizing enrollment in existing state cover crop programs. CREP will also authorize incentive payments for rewarding best practices in measured outcomes for soil carbon storage.
  • Amending conservation programs to put an increased emphasis on helping farmers create individualized soil health plans, including plans for soil carbon storage.
  • Amending conservation programs to allow farmers to receive rental payments for land that is no longer suitable for agriculture because of saltwater intrusion if they install some form of alternative and sustainable energy source on that marginal land.

Boosting Technical Assistance and Decreasing Administrative Burdens

USDA programs supporting soil health and soil carbon storage, education, and assistance are underfunded and oversubscribed. There is a significant need for more federal investment in technical assistance and support throughout all USDA programs to meet the growing demand. The Natural Resources Conservation Service and its Soil Conservation Districts is just one example of where we must invest in more technical assistance offerings to help farmers implement robust soil health plans that are envisioned under the NSHI. In addition to program expansion, the NSHI is dedicated to decreasing administrative burdens that can limit access and engagement in these programs.

Addressing Saltwater Intrusion

In addition to severe weather events, rising sea levels also pose a significant threat to our farming traditions as saltwater intrusion dramatically impacts growing conditions. As saltwater leaches from the Bay onto our fields and into our aquifers, the rising salinity level in the soil makes it challenging to grow an array of cash crops that have become staples for our region.

 

To address these challenges, the NSHI will invest in research to test and determine which cash crops are most capable of withstanding salty soils and periodic flooding; track salinity changes over time in groundwater wells and surface water; and map these areas as a way to highlight where it will be most cost-effective to implement adaptation measures such as planting salt-tolerant crops. The NSHI will also make changes to existing conservation programs to inform landowners of available programs and ease transition of impacted farmland to marsh fields that will protect biodiversity and improve carbon storage.

The Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) protects farmers from the impacts of unpredictable weather but as insurance claims increase because of severe weather events, farmers may be faced with higher premiums to keep the program solvent. The USDA projects that the severity of predicted climate change could cause FCIP costs to increase by up to 22 percent. We must ensure that farmers are not bearing the burden of these increased costs through higher premiums for their crop insurance. A better approach is to make fossil fuel companies pay for climate mitigation and devote a portion of that funding towards FCIP solvency.

 

In addition to keeping crop insurance premiums from rising, the USDA should reward farmers with lower FCIP premiums if they are using best practices to make crops more resilient against severe weather.

 

Farmers who increase organic matter and carbon in the soil can produce more climate resilient crops, which withstand the extreme and unpredictable swings between drought and heavy rains. These practices contribute to more resilient yields and reduced federal crop insurance claims; however, the USDA gives no consideration to whether a farmer deploys these practices when determining crop insurance premiums. By modernizing this program to give farmers credit for good climate practices through lowered FCIP premiums, the USDA would create an incentive that is good for the farmer as well as the land.

The Eastern Shore is home to some of the highest concentrations of broilers in the country with the poultry industry employing thousands of Marylanders in our region. For decades, excessive chicken litter was applied directly to agricultural fields, resulting in high nutrient levels in the Bay, algae blooms, and dead zones. How to properly manage excess poultry litter has been an ongoing challenge for our region, but an innovative public-private partnership may offer a sustainable solution to this problem.

 

Planet Found Energy Development is a Maryland-based company of scientists, farmers, and business leaders dedicated to developing manure management technologies that will safeguard the environment as well as the economic viability of our agricultural communities in the Chesapeake Bay Region. Planet Found has built a patent-pending system for treating poultry litter and converting it into renewable energy, potting soils, and fertilizers while eliminating liquid discharge. In the process, the majority of phosphorus introduced to the system is captured as a phosphorus-based fertilizer, removing it from the nutrient cycle in sensitive agricultural and ecological environments.

 

This project is currently being piloted on the Lower Shore in Pocomoke City. As innovations like this one come to market, there is an opportunity to use agricultural technology to solve some of the most stubborn environmental challenges created by certain farming practices. Reducing agricultural runoff into our waterways and lowering our phosphorus nutrient loads will dramatically improve the health of our Chesapeake Bay. Doing so by investing in and scaling up technologies that transform poultry litter into value-added products for commercial sale is a win-win-win.

 

This Agri-Climate plan envisions a world where Eastern Shore- and Maryland-based companies with next generation solutions to agricultural and environmental challenges benefit from strong public sector support and advocacy. To start, we must make sure we compete for our fair share of $250 million in new federal grants that will soon be administered through the Region III EPA Office specifically targeted to helping with the goal of cleaning the Chesapeake Bay.

I come from a long line of family farmers. Agriculture and the love of land runs deep in my DNA.

 

Driving a combine with my uncles through the corn fields or watching the loader fill the bean wagons are images of my youth that I cherish. I spent my middle and high school summers working in the fields each season as a detasseler for a seed corn company to save money for college. Friends have always joked, “you can take Heather out of the cornfields, but you can’t take the cornfields out of Heather.”

 

For the past ten years, my spouse and I have owned a small 34-acre organic farm in Kent County that is our forever home. We see ourselves as stewards and work to always be in right relationship to the land and its habitats and ecosystems.

 

It is in the spirit of a farmer-conservationist that I sponsored a roundtable discussion which gathered local stakeholders ranging from farmers and environmentalists to academics, non-profit leaders, and industry entrepreneurs to discuss ideas for how agricultural policies can partner to help solve our climate crisis.

 

This Agri-Climate plan is the result of this collaboration. I am dedicated to delivering representation to our Congressional district that truly listens, seeks input from all stakeholders, and generates policy solutions that will advance exciting and innovative solutions to solve some of our biggest challenges. I am a skilled legislator who knows how to turn a plan into action, ideas into law. I am ready to be your Congresswoman.

Health Care: Expanding Access, Lowering Costs, Improving Coverage

Fix the car, or call the doctor and get your chest pains checked out? Pay that overdue rent, or fill the prescription for your kid’s insulin? No one should have to face such agonizing choices, and yet worries like these keep many First District residents up at night. That’s why I have long advocated for an affordable health care system that covers every single person. This issue hits home in our District, where many traditional occupations – such as farming and fishing – are dangerous and lack employer-provided health insurance.

I will bring to Washington a combination of dedication and expertise on this issue. I wrote Senator John Kerry’s health care platform for his presidential campaign, and for years was one of the Maryland General Assembly’s most vocal leaders on the issue. I partnered with a conservative Republican to enact the Family Planning Works Act to give all low-income women in Maryland access to free family planning services. Long before the federal Affordable Care Act extended a lifeline to millions of Americans, I worked to expand access right here in Maryland. The Kids First Act that I wrote enrolled thousands of children who qualified for care but had fallen through the cracks, and my Family Coverage Expansion Act made Maryland one of the first states to allow young people to stay on their family health plans until age 26. Both laws went on to serve as national models.

In Congress, I will push to finish the job of making access to affordable health care truly universal. I will seek to expand who qualifies for coverage, improve the benefits packages, and will work to bring down out-of-pocket costs through better subsidies and copayment rules. I also support allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies to reduce Rx prices. And I will prioritize our rural health care needs by focusing on ways to attract more and better health care providers to our region and promote policies that will keep rural hospitals and clinics open and thriving, ensuring First District residents don’t lose their access to care.

RESILENCE IN THE FACE OF
CLIMATE CHANGE​