As part of his goal to eradicate child poverty in Maryland, Gov. Wes Moore’s latest tactic is to funnel millions of dollars into low-income communities.

But he may have a problem: a budget deficit.

Moore’s ENOUGH Act — it stands for “Engaging Neighborhoods, Organizations, Unions, Governments and Households” — got generally glowing reviews from a committee of lawmakers who heard the governor’s pitch on Wednesday.

The ENOUGH Act would enable community-led efforts to apply for grants to fund programs that combat poverty, such as improving “cradle to career” education, supporting children and young adults who are “justice-involved” and connecting people with jobs.

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To be eligible, communities would need to have at least 20% of their children living in poverty, and they would need to assemble a partnership of community groups, schools and the local government to work together on the plan. The ENOUGH Act has dozens of lawmakers from both parties as co-sponsors.

During a hearing Wednesday, state delegates called the legislation “very important,” “much needed,” exciting and an example of leadership.

But the chairman of the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee, Del. Ben Barnes, had a sober reminder for the Democratic governor that he’s facing down a long-term budget hole that would grow to nearly $3 billion, if left unaddressed.

“I want to give the opportunity to address some who may say: How do we justify spending, given the fiscal climate?” Barnes said to the governor.

Moore responded that the budget issues are a real challenge, but at the same time, spending money in a “laser-focused and data-driven” way would be a responsible way to address the economic landscape that’s contributing to the state’s financial picture.

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“The thing that we know is just simply adding more capital or just spreading more capital, that’s not going to be the answer,” Moore said.

Barnes said that “what keeps me up at night” is knowing that the legislature has passed a number of programs to help the state — including an ambitions public school reform program and an expansion of Medicaid health insurance — and will likely pass the ENOUGH Act, but there may not be sufficient money to keep funding such programs in future years.

Trying to simply “spend smarter” isn’t the answer, said Barnes, a Democrat who represents parts of Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties.

“It would be a shame if we had to cut any of these programs. ... I do think at some point we’re going to have to have a conversation about being serious about raising revenue to protect these investments,” he said.

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A map from the Maryland Department of Planning identifies Census tracks with high concentrations of children in poverty. Gov. Wes Moore is proposing sending $15 million per year to community efforts in targeted neighborhoods.
A map from the Maryland Department of Planning identifies Census tracks with high concentrations of children in poverty. Gov. Wes Moore is proposing sending $15 million per year to community efforts in targeted neighborhoods. (Maryland Department of Planning)

Speaking to reporters afterward, Moore noted that his budget proposal for next year is balanced, including the first year of funding for the ENOUGH Act grants. He said the budget is “fiscally responsible.”

“It’s a budget that says we’re going to make big investments in areas like concentrated poverty and generational child poverty. And we don’t need to raise taxes,” Moore said. “I said very clearly that we’re always here to be a willing partner with the legislature, but for me, the bar for taxes is very, very high.”

Delegates on the Appropriations Committee spent nearly an hour questioning the governor and his team, with some drilling down to details such as how community groups would be notified about the grant opportunities.

Others wanted to know whether the ENOUGH Act would inadvertently duplicate efforts, or perhaps work in concert with, other programs — such as community restoration efforts funded by cannabis sales, and the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, an education program that includes supports for schools in high-poverty areas.

Moore made eliminating child poverty a core focus of his administration, declaring it an “audacious goal” in his first State of the State address in 2023.

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In his first year in office, Moore successfully pushed for targeted tax credits for low-income workers and an acceleration of the minimum wage to $15 per hour as his first steps toward reducing child poverty. He followed that up this year with the ENOUGH Act.

Moore will make a second pitch for the ENOUGH Act before a committee of state senators on Friday.

Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics and government. She previously reported for The Baltimore Sun, The Capital and other Maryland newspapers. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, she lives in northern Anne Arundel County.

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