AG's COVID-19 ACCESS TO JUSTICE TASK FORCE
The Task Force was created in 2020 as a partnership between the Maryland Attorney General’s Office and the Maryland Access to Justice Commission to address extraordinary civil legal challenges, hurdles and hardships impacting unprecedented numbers of Marylanders as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. The Task Force’s final report, released on January 11, 2021, provides detailed reforms and recommendations to ensure that Marylanders are housed, economically secure, healthy and have enough food to eat, are safe and have meaningful access to the civil justice system. Visit the Attorney General's Task Force home page here.
Focus Areas for the Task Force:
To learn about some of the changes recommended by the Task Force to address these issues, click here.
Ensuring Marylanders are Housed
Ensuring Marylanders are Economically Secure
Ensuring Marylanders are Healthy and Have Enough to Eat
Ensuring Marylanders are Safe
Ensuring Marylanders Have Access to the Civil Justice System
Task Force Final Report
While preparing its final report, the Task Force surveyed impacted individuals, service providers, and attorneys. Additionally, the Task Force convened more than 300 experts, whose dynamic advice has been incorporated into the report and recommendations. The report includes more than fifty recommended actions and reforms.
See full report here: https://www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov/Pages/A2JC/default.aspx.
Highlights of the Report's Recommendations
Recommendations to Ensure Marylanders are Housed:
• Increase the filing fee for summary ejectment actions and prohibit the fee from being passed on to tenants.
• Provide a right to counsel to defendants at both the trial and mediation/settlement phases of eviction proceedings.
• Institute due process reforms and data reporting requirements to allow more time and targeted intervention for diversion efforts and eviction and homelessness prevention.
Recommendations to Ensure Marylanders are Economically Secure:
• Eliminate body attachments for consumer debt.
• Decrease the collection fee charged by the State’s Central Collection Unit on civil debt from the current fee of “up to 20 percent” to 6 percent.
• Allow the heirs of an estate to receive the homeowner’s tax credit to reduce the amount of real property taxes that the estate/heirs would otherwise be required to pay.
Recommendations to Ensure Marylanders are Healthy and Have Enough to Eat:
• Establishing a tracking system to track the status of unemployment insurance claims through application, processing, and review.
• Increase and maintain Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits.
• Connect unemployed individuals who have lost health insurance coverage to health insurance options offered by the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange.
• Build health equity and increase health care services for populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and historically underserved by making permanent telehealth and audio services.
Recommendations to Ensure Marylanders are Safe:
• Require the Maryland Commissioner of Labor and Industry to develop and adopt regulations to provide protections to workers, including establishing standards for health care industry and emergency response employers, and requiring employers to provide paid leave to workers who must self-quarantine due to workplace exposure.
• Amend Maryland’s Healthy Working Families Act to: (1) remove the exemptions from required paid sick leave for underage workers, agricultural workers, and temporary or part time staffing workers; and (2) add eligibility to use paid sick leave during a declared public health emergency.
• Require the State and counties to increase transparency regarding their receipt and expenditure of federal emergency funding.
Recommendations to Ensure Marylanders Have Access to the Civil Justice System:
• Mandate a new appropriation from the State’s General Fund to support Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC)-funded civil legal aid services as well as civil legal aid and legal support services provided by organizations not funded by MLSC.
• Increase pro bono legal services to meet the rising demand for civil legal aid.
• Have a single point of entry for information about civil legal aid.
• Incorporate civil legal needs into emergency planning and government agencies whose missions deal with basic human needs.
Additional Task Force Accomplishments
Advocated for $11.7 million in emergency funding for the Maryland Legal Services Corporation
Hosted 12 community forums, in English and Spanish, to better inform Marylanders about resources
Provided resource guides and substantive law manuals to assist Marylanders
Task Force in the News
Click here for the latest updates and media coverage.
Attorney General’s COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force Requests Extension of Moratorium on Evictions
The Attorney General’s COVID 19 Access to Justice Task Force, lead in partnership with the Maryland Attorney General and the Maryland Access to Justice Commission sent a letter to the chief judges of the Court of Appeals and the District Court of Maryland requesting the Court extend its moratoria on eviction actions and debt collection cases until January 31, 2021. In its letter to Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera and Chief Judge John P. Morrissey, the Task Force, citing the ongoing public health and economic devastation of the pandemic, requested holding the moratoria in place until the General Assembly has the opportunity to enact, and the Governor to sign, emergency legislation to assist Marylanders with the housing and debt crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The current moratorium restricts Maryland’s District Court system from hearing eviction proceedings until July 25, when the current stay on residential evictions is scheduled to be lifted.
“COVID-19 has caused significant hardship for thousands of Maryland families,” said Attorney General Frosh. “Loss of jobs and the resulting loss of income have left many residents with little to no resources to pay rent or other bills. If eviction and debt collection proceedings are allowed to move forward, many Maryland families will be forced out of their homes, with no place to go and no income to obtain new housing.”
Extension of the moratoria is critical because the ongoing public health emergency has rendered Marylanders’ inability to pay rent and consumer debt largely unchanged since the onset of the pandemic. Many Marylanders were struggling to pay housing and other expenses before the COVID-19 crisis, and the pandemic has exacerbated these difficulties exponentially. Specifically:
The disease continues unabated and disproportionately harms communities of color;
Economic conditions that will reduce unemployment and enable schools to reopen seem unlikely to improve significantly in the short term;
Unemployment and other CARES Act benefits are inaccessible or slated to end on July 31;
Rental assistance is limited;
Court proceedings under COVID-19 conditions will make eviction and debt collection more challenging.
In its letter, the Task Force noted that allowing landlord-tenant and debt collection cases to proceed will exacerbate what is already a dire situation for many Marylanders. A few months reprieve would help the State avoid thousands of evictions and provide Marylanders much-needed time to begin to overcome the extraordinary health and economic challenges as a result of the pandemic.
"Maryland leaders can still course-correct to ensure that Marylanders do not face eviction and displacement at a time when the global pandemic is still raging. There are three prongs to the approach to ensure our residents do not face more devastation: extension of the moratoria, rent relief and provision of civil legal aid and other support services. This Task Force has brought together many of the leaders and advocates who are expert in these issues to guide us and help us think through collective and impactful solutions."
Attorney General Frosh also noted the ongoing work of the Task Force in taking this action to urge extension of the moratoria.
“I also want to thank the Access to Justice Commission, our partner in this endeavor, and members of the Task Force and its committees for their tremendous commitment so far in working to develop solutions and strategies to help address the most pressing and critical needs of so many of our neighbors in the midst of the pandemic. The wealth of knowledge, experience, and diversity amongst the members of the Task Force, along with a shared commitment to assist those in dire need, will allow us to continue our efforts to assist and advocate for those facing unprecedented and unforeseen hardship.”
Here is the letter:
Here are the attachments to the letter: