February 15, 2022

Securing the Promise of Liberty and Justice for All

As we commemorate Black History Month, we celebrate the stories of so many brave, accomplished, and brilliant Marylanders and Americans who have made and continue to make historic contributions to our country and our shared journey toward a brighter, more just, and more equitable future for all.

Our nation’s history has been marked and made by giants like Marylanders Frederick Douglass, Thurgood Marshall, Harriet Tubman, and Benjamin Banneker and by brilliant artists like Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and other Black Americans in every field of endeavor who changed our country and the world for the better. Their names, their legacies, and their writings should be known by every school child, and their contributions to our shared history should be celebrated as we work together to build a more perfect union based on freedom, equality, and justice for all.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to celebrate the life and legacy of a Black American who fought the Nazis in World War II as a Tuskegee Airman and was one of the greatest fighter pilots of all time: the late, great Brigadier General Charles Edward McGee. I worked with colleagues to recognize his heroism by authorizing his honorary promotion from Colonel to the rank of Brigadier General two years ago, and it was a privilege to join his family and friends at his memorial to hold up his story of bravery to all Americans.

I also joined members of the Maryland congressional delegation and the Black History Promotion and Education Committee for a celebration of Black History Month this past weekend. That event featured a keynote address by Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett, Ph.D. on health equity. Dr. Corbett holds a degree from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and is the former scientific lead of the Coronavirus Vaccines and Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Her research team at NIH played a key role in developing the coronavirus vaccine that is now distributed by Moderna and which has saved countless lives. She currently works at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.  

From securing Americans’ voting rights to dismantling systemic inequities in many of our institutions, big challenges remain. But the stories of General McGee, Dr. Corbett, and many others who have helped steer our nation’s course toward brighter days continue to give me hope.

At the end of January, we learned of another reason to be hopeful. With the announcement of Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement at the end of this Supreme Court term, President Biden has committed to nominating a successor with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience, and integrity – and that person will be the first Black woman to sit on the High Court.

Justice Breyer has been a champion of equal justice under law. I’m thankful for his service and his deep understanding of our Constitution and the rights it protects. Now, I’m ready to get to work to confirm a justice who will continue to uphold these core values for all. That act is just one small but important movement in our ongoing mission to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice. 

What We’ve Accomplished Together

President Biden was sworn in just over one year ago. After his inauguration, we immediately got moving to address the health impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic harm it was wreaking. These twin challenges demanded a response that would help keep people safe while also providing an economic safety net to help the country weather the storm. 

First, we passed the American Rescue Plan, which brought historic relief to Maryland families, workers, and communities and gave our economy a boost that helped deliver record job growth accompanied by unparalleled reductions in the unemployment rate. Through this plan, we delivered over $6.5 billion in direct relief with stimulus payments to 2.8 million Maryland families, supported thousands of local small businesses, and provided tax cuts to families with children in our state. We also secured over $6 billion to help Marylanders get vaccinated and to support our frontline workers at the state and local level. Resources from the American Rescue Plan are still reaching our communities, and I’ve been meeting with leaders across our state to highlight the important progress we’re making on key issues thanks to those federal investments – including money to close the digital divide and promote digital equity.

Following the enactment of this historic relief, we tackled a priority that has been talked about for decades but was never achieved until now: comprehensive legislation to modernize our infrastructure. I was proud to fight for Maryland’s priorities in the new infrastructure modernization bill and to vote to send it to the President’s desk, bringing over $7 billion to Maryland over the next five years in direct investments to update our roads, bridges, transit systems, broadband, and more. That legislation also includes many provisions I’ve been fighting to pass through Congress for years, including a measure to protect transit workers and pedestrians. Late last month, I stood with members of the Amalgamated Transit Union and Maryland leaders in Baltimore to highlight this victory – and that’s just one of the many accomplishments for Maryland that we secured in this landmark legislation.

In addition, we have continued combatting the COVID-19 pandemic and are pushing forward with readily-available vaccines, more masks, and more testing to help keep our communities safe. I’m especially pleased that the Biden Administration has made it easier than ever to access masks and testing. You and your family can now order up to four free at-home COVID-19 test kits, with kits delivered directly to your door, and the Biden Administration also announced that it is making 400 million N95 masks available to Americans for free. I encourage every Marylander to take advantage of these resources as needed. 

We’ve come a long way over the last year, but we still have much work ahead. Over the weeks and months to come, I look forward to meeting with community leaders and Marylanders from all corners of our state to discuss how we can continue our journey toward a brighter future. I had the privilege of speaking with a group of faith leaders from across our state at the beginning of January, and my conversation with them reaffirmed my conviction that it won’t be enough for us to return to the pre-pandemic status quo. We must work together to strengthen our communities and bring shared prosperity and greater opportunity to all. 

Combating Fraud Against Maryland Seniors

Every day, Marylanders and Americans all across the country fall victim to con artists who target seniors. According to a report from the Senate Special Committee on Aging released last Congress, older Americans lose approximately $3 billion each year to financial scams and abuse. We’ve made progress to stop these schemes, but there’s more we can do. That’s why I’ve partnered with a group of colleagues to introduce critical bipartisan legislation to help combat fraudulent scams aimed at older Americans. Our bill, the Empowering States to Protect Seniors from Bad Actors Act, creates a partnership between the federal and state governments to protect senior investors from scams that target them.

Recently, I joined a town hall hosted by AARP Maryland to take questions from Marylanders on this legislation and other initiatives I’m pursuing to serve our seniors. I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this common-sense bill passed, and I am committed to advancing additional priorities to protect Marylanders of all ages and financial backgrounds from fraud.

Preparing for Tax Season

With Maryland households now preparing to file their annual tax returns, my office has assembled resources to help answer questions in the lead-up to this year’s federal tax deadline of April 18. You can click here to view those resources, and I encourage folks with additional questions to contact my office. For many, filing their taxes – and receiving their refund from the IRS – can be a difficult process. That’s why my office is here to help and can work to ensure you get the refund you’re owed.

I also understand the frustration that some Marylanders are feeling as they continue to wait for their IRS tax refunds from last year. There is a massive refund backlog at the IRS, due in large part to outdated equipment that places unnecessary strain on staff and slows down efficiency. As the new Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees federal funding for the IRS, I have been working with colleagues to address this issue by delivering resources that will bring IRS taxpayer services into the 21st century by upgrading and replacing aging IRS infrastructure. For working families, that will mean improved service, shorter hold times when they call the IRS with questions, and a reduction in the massive backlog that has left millions of Americans in a holding pattern as they wait for their 2021 refunds.

Whether you have concerns about your 2022 tax return, are still waiting on your 2021 refund, or have additional concerns about tax season, I encourage you to reach out to my office. Maryland can only succeed when Marylanders work together in partnership, and my office is always standing by to assist with issues ranging from taxes to federal benefits programs to passports and more. My entire team is committed to delivering constituent services that meet the needs of all Marylanders.


               Chris Van Hollen