Bay Ecosystem: Annapolis Lawmakers face Continuing Bay Debates in 2018 by Tim Wheeler

As they return to their chambers this month, state legislators across the Chesapeake watershed face some of the same Bay-centric environmental issues they’ve seen before.

In Maryland, they’ll debate what more should be done, if anything, to conserve the state’s forestland from development and whether air pollution from chicken houses deserves a closer look. In Virginia, lawmakers will revisit what should be done with vast quantities of potentially toxic coal ash now stored in unlined pits at power plants. And in Pennsylvania, a proposal to regulate lawn fertilizer use, to keep it from fouling local streams and the Bay, is likely to rear its head again.

Legislators in all three jurisdictions will also tackle the annual challenge of scraping together the funds needed to meet their Chesapeake restoration obligations — made even tougher this year as support wanes in Washington for federal-state cleanup programs.

Adding to the mix, politics will play a bigger role than usual in how these and other issues play out. State legislative elections loom in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and their governors — Republican and Democrat, respectively — are seeking second terms. In Virginia, the newly elected Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, takes office with a legislature more evenly balanced between the parties than it’s been in ages, which could change how debates play out.


Forest Conservation: Lawmakers in Annapolis are being pressed by environmental groups to take another look at tightening the state’s 27-year-old forest conservation law.

Since the 1960s, Maryland has lost more than 450,000 acres of forest, and before 2008 it was losing up to 8,600 acres each year, according to a November report by the state Department of Legislative Services.

As originally passed in 1991, the Forest Conservation Act regulates the removal of large numbers of trees for development and requires either that new ones be planted elsewhere or that the developer pay into a local government fund for later plantings.

In March, using highly detailed land cover data from 2013, the nonprofit Chesapeake Conservancy estimated that Maryland had nearly 2.5 million acres of forestland, covering almost 40 percent of the state’s land.
But based on data reported by Maryland counties, activists said, the state experienced a net loss of 14,500 acres through the Forest Conservation Act from 2009 through 2016. And they contend that the 1991 law has been particularly ineffective at saving the largest and most ecologically valuable woodlands.

A study published last year found that while tree cover has increased in residential subdivisions in suburban Baltimore County since the forest conservation law passed, the most heavily forested tracts in the county continued to be carved up.

“When there’s intact forest ecology, that’s basically the most important kind of forest, and that’s the forest the [law] is doing the least to benefit,” said Elaine Lutz, a staff attorney with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Last year, advocates pushed a bill that would have required one-for-one replacement of every acre of woodland mowed down for development. But it ran into fierce opposition from local officials and real estate interests, and failed to get out of committee. This year, green groups are crafting a more targeted bill that would tighten protections just on those woodland tracts deemed most ecologically important.

Lutz said the current law is “wishy-washy” on defining what types of forestland are most important to preserve and what kind of protection they should get. She and other activists want to see greater emphasis in the law on keeping those tracts untouched, rather than letting them be cut down in favor of trees being planted elsewhere.

“An existing mature forest is a lot more ecologically valuable than saplings in the ground,” she pointed out. Forests in the Bay’s watershed soak up nutrients in the air and in runoff from rainfall, and the Bay states have agreed that it’s critical to the restoration effort to maintain and expand forestlands.

Local government officials remain wary of tightening the law, but say they’d like to have more flexibility in where trees must be replanted and how they can spend funds paid by developers in lieu of replanting removed trees. But real estate interests argue the law is working and does not need a major overhaul.

“The Forest Conservation Act was never meant to be a no-net-loss policy,” said Lori Graf, chief executive officer of the Maryland Building Industry Association. The law is just one of several laws and programs aimed at halting the loss of the state’s forestland, she said, and recent data indicate the goal of maintaining the state’s overall forest acreage is being met.

While minor tweaks might be warranted to provide more flexibility for replanting, Graf concluded, “We feel like there are better ways to save the Bay.”

Renewable Energy: Last year, the legislature’s Democratic majority overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which increased Maryland’s renewable energy goal to 25 percent by 2020. This year, advocates hope to ratchet up the goal even more, with competing bills that would require 50 percent renewables by 2030, or even 100 percent by 2035. “It’s ambitious, but we think, especially given the federal climate right now, that the states really have to step up,” said Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters.

Environmentalists also want to stop treating “dirty” energy generators, such as those that burn municipal waste, as “clean” energy under the state’s law.
Rural Air Quality: Another returnee is the Community Healthy Air Act, a bill that would study whether rural Marylanders’ health is threatened by air emissions from the large-scale poultry growing operations concentrated on the Eastern Shore.

Chicken waste emits ammonia, which is currently unregulated, and it adds nitrogen pollution in the Bay when rainfall washes it from the air. The bill would require the Maryland Department of the Environment to collect and report data on chicken house emissions. The poultry industry successfully opposed the bill last year, arguing it should be left to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has been studying it without action for more than a dozen years.


Environmental groups focused on Bay priorities have an uncharted political landscape to navigate in Virginia’s general assembly this session. Democratic victories in the November election chipped away at the House of Delegates’ once invulnerable Republican majority and — following the surprising outcome of a late-December recount, and ultimately a name pulled from a hat — leaving Republicans with the slimmest majority possible: 51-49.

“With the recent elections, lots of things changed,” said Pat Calvert, a policy and campaigns manager for the Virginia Conservation Network, which represents the conservation interests of 120 partner organizations.

Budget: Near the top of environmentalists’ wish lists this year is funding to help the state meet its water quality goals. Outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe included in his proposed budget, released in December, $42.5 million over two years to help farmers implement nutrient control systems and practices. That falls short of the $62 million that Bay groups would like to see from the state. At the completion of a year-long study by a legislative committee, advocates expect a bill to be presented that would help stabilize future funding for agricultural conservation practices.

“We really need to focus on ensuring that cleaning up polluting farms, and getting them to the level of our best operating farms, is a priority,” Calvert said.

McAuliffe also left out funding for a second straight year for the state’s Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, which helps localities fund projects to reduce polluted stormwater runoff. Environmental groups are asking legislators to add $50 million for those programs into future versions of the budget.

Sewer Overflows: The city of Alexandria is seeking state funding to help pay for costly wastewater system upgrades to curtail overflows of raw sewage whenever it rains — an effort the legislature declared last year was not moving quickly enough. McAuliffe’s proposed budget includes $20 million for the Northern Virginia city.

Coal Ash: The permanent disposal of coal ash is likely to be the subject of another bill this session. To comply with a 2017 bill, Dominion Energy presented an 800-page report in December defending its plans for keeping the ash, a byproduct of burning coal for power, in covered pits at four of the company’s power plants near Chesapeake Bay tributaries. Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) said he’ll present a bill that would encourage the company to consider excavating or recycling the coal ash into concrete and other products, as North Carolina legislators have required.


Funding bills loom as the commonwealth’s year-round legislature reconvenes in January, but there’s also a measure to regulate lawn fertilizer that would bring the state in line with others in the Bay watershed.

Bay Cleanup: The Senate was expected to vote on the Clean Water Procurement bill on Jan. 2, the lawmakers’ first day back. The bill would establish a $50 million annual fund with contributions from the state’s many municipalities that are required to reduce polluted runoff from their streets and parking lots. Instead of investing in costly taxpayer-funded stormwater remediation projects, proponents say, municipalities can meet their nutrient reduction obligations in a more cost-efficient way — by paying to help farmers deal with their animal manure, an even larger source of nutrient pollution.

In return, the local governments would be absolved from their mandates, according to the bill. The financing would be awarded to private industry to build large manure-processing systems. Municipal associations and some environmental groups are opposed to the bill, partially because it was written and promoted heavily by Bion Environmental Technologies, whose subsidiary BionPA1 is in default of a $7.8 million state loan on a pilot manure-to-energy project.

Harrisburg has seen several iterations of the bill pitched in the last four years. The measure has yet to be addressed in the House.

Lawn Fertilizer: Lawmakers will be asked again to approve a bill requiring lawn care and landscaping companies in Pennsylvania to train and certify employees before they can apply fertilizer to turf grass. The bill, introduced by Sen. Richard Alloway (R-Adams), also limits application rates to reduce the likelihood of fertilizer washing off and polluting nearby streams and the Bay with unused nutrients for grass. The bill is a priority of the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission, which has succeeded in getting similar legislation passed in Maryland and Virginia.

Water Fee: A study report is expected on a bill that’s been stalled in a House committee since last May, which would raise about $250 million a year for water-related programs. The bill, introduced by Rep. Michael Sturla (D-Lancaster), one of five Pennsylvania lawmakers on the Bay Commission, would levy a 0.01 cent per gallon fee on commercial and industrial water withdrawals of more than 10,000 gallons.

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets. Whitney Pipkin writes at the intersection of food, agriculture and the environment from her home base in Northern Virginia. Her work for the Bay Journal often focuses on the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, and she is a fellow of the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources. Donna Morelli, based in Harrisburg, PA., is a staff writer for the Bay Journal. She’s the former director of the Pennsylvania office of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

Really Good Stuff: Washington College, Faculty and Staff Donates $28,000 to Local United Way

Washington College is donating $28,000 to United Way of Kent County, after 82 faculty and staff responded to President Kurt Landgraf’s pledge to match whatever they contributed.

“I am just so proud of the Washington College community, and I appreciate the generosity and caring of this faculty and staff,” Landgraf says. “This United Way campaign result is yet another indication that we take our mission seriously—they’re not just words on a document, but a living action statement to support our community.”

In late fall, Landgraf asked College employees to consider signing up for a payroll deduction to United Way of Kent County, pledging that he would match whatever they raised. Last year, eight employees gave through the payroll deduction for a total of $1,248. As of December 14, 82 employees had signed up for a total donation of $13,944. Landgraf matched this with $14,000.

“Many members of our Washington College community, including students, staff, and faculty, have had close associations with United Way agencies in a number of capacities,” says Sarah Feyerherm, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students, and a member of United Way of Kent County’s Board of Directors. “But this recent financial commitment is emblematic of a recognition that we are all partners in improving the lives of Kent County residents. Kurt’s leadership and generosity was just contagious, and the response from our employees was heartwarming. My hope is that this is just the start of a sustained partnership between the College and the United Way of Kent County.”

United Way of Kent County raises and distributes funding to multiple organizations, with a focus on improving the health, education, and financial stability of Kent County residents. In addition to the College’s donations through the workplace campaign, the College has directly supported or provided resources for many United Way member organizations including Character Counts! Kent County, the Kent Center, St. Martin’s Ministries, the Community Food Pantry, Camp Fairlee/Easter Seals, Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties, Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay Council, Kent Forward, For All Seasons, Echo Hill Outdoor School, and the Mid-Shore Council on Family Violence.

Early in his tenure as Washington College President, Landgraf made United Way of Kent County a priority as a way for the College to do more to support the surrounding community.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but I grew up an orphan. I know what it’s like to seriously need the help of others,” Landgraf says. “This is one of the reasons that I have always been a big supporter of the United Way, and why, as soon as I came to Washington College, I got involved in United Way of Kent County. I know how much good this organization can do. And I want to make sure that everybody at our College knows how much good it can do, how it can lift up whole segments of our community’s population that need help the most.”

The Face of Suicide in All Seasons with Beth Anne Langrell and Lesa Lee

For the record, there is no such thing as a “Suicide Season.” While it may be tempting to think of these long dark days of winter as a critical time for those contemplating ending their lives, this has shown to be statistically not the case.

In fact, the risk of suicide is a four-season phenomenon which makes it all the more understandable that our Mid-Shore’s suicide crisis and prevention center is called For All Seasons. A mental health agency tasked with being the community’s front line to save those suffering from these impulses, For All Seasons have significantly invested resources and public education programming over the years to provide a safe and caring place for those at risk and their families.

The Spy recently sat down with For All Seasons director Beth Anne Langrell and its clinical director, Lesa Lee, to talk about the ongoing threat of suicide in the region and their views of how best to attack this cry for help from loved ones.

As part of that interview, the Spy wanted to match some of Beth Anne and Lesa’s comments to the real and recent faces of suicide in our country that were found online.  Young and old, male or female, white or black, over one million Americans are trying to end their lives each year. Those images say so much more about these avoidable tragedies.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about For All Seasons please click here 

The 1st District: Introducing Candidate Jesse Colvin

It’s too bad that one of Jesse Colvin’s most compelling examples of his character is pretty much reserved for those who know something about college basketball.

A candidate in the Democratic primary for the Congressional 1st District seat now, and with four active tours of duty in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army Ranger behind him, Jesse still has a hint of horror in his voice when he recalled before our formal Spy interview of being a freshman reporter on Duke University’s student newspaper and asking the famed Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) why he had ‘screwed up’ after a critical match against the University of Maryland.

The crowded press room fell silent as Jesse’s basketball heroes started to awkwardly shuffle their feet as Duke’s only living god, who is referred to on the Duke campus as “GOAT,” as in “Greatest of All Time,” came down on the cub reporter in a rage of fury that would crush a typical nineteen years old. But that might be the point; Jesse Colvin is not your ordinary anything.

A gifted student with a bright future in the field of international relations, Colvin instead signed up to not only serve in the military but sought out and earned a position in the 75th Ranger Regiment, perhaps the most elite fighting force in the world.

With all that in mind, it doesn’t seem so shocking then to see someone of Jesse’s age, with no significant political background, decide that he has what it takes to win what is turning out to be a hotly contested Democratic primary contest in June of next year and then defeat Representative Andy Harris in November.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. We have included Jesse Colvin’s “Coach K” story after the credits. For more information the Jesse Colvin for Congress campaign please go here

Spy Minute: What the Heck is the Bistro Bill with Joe Petro

Even after reading the coverage in the Star-Democrat over the last few days about the so-called Bistro Bill, the Spy was still not entirely clear what proposed legislation would do if the Talbot County Council ultimately passes in next month.

Our solution was a quick check in with Joe Petro, owner of Hair O’ the Dog, and the primary advocate for changing the law. As Joe explains, Hair O’ The Dog wishes to add a wine bar alongside their existing store off of Marlboro Street but current local law caps the amount Hair can serve its customers to one ounce. This change would permit them to remove that restriction for the wine bar addition and serve both wine and beer by the glass or bottle.

We checked in with Joe this morning to allow him to make his case that the law should change.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about Bistro Bill, a.k.a. Bill No. 1377, please go here


Spy Update: Talbot County’s Economic Development and Tourism Team Reports In

Just over a year ago this week, Cassandra Vanhooser was given the task of running two crucial programs for Talbot County. The first was the job she had initially been signed up for, which was running the County’s Office of Tourism, and the second, heading up its office of economic development, was added to her portfolio after the Talbot County Council approved plans to consolidate the two divisions.

That was a tall order for any administrator, particularly given the fact that Cassandra would need to build an entirely new department from scratch, starting with such essential elements as mission statement, goals, and annual objectives with very little regarding resources and staff support.

Those circumstances have changed significantly over the last twelve months. With the addition of Sam Shoge as economic development coordinator, and Ryan Snow as the office’s project manager, a new team has emerged to not only complete the day-to-day needs for the department but also fast-tracked a community input and strategic planning process, successfully implemented a new enterprise zone for downtown Easton, and more recently fine-tuned all of the County’s major communications tools including enhancing Facebook and other social media outlets.

The Spy sat down with all three of them at the Bullitt House last week for a catch-up session.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about Talbot County Economic Development and Tourism office please go here

Easton Point Marina and Port Street Corridor Plan Advance

Early this week, the Easton Town Council was presented with the most recent proposed zoning for Easton Point and the Port Street Corridor. Coming next is a November 20th public hearing held by the Easton Town Council to receive public input on the Port Street Small Area Plan, a document well worth careful review as it describes how an important area of the community would be developed over the next few decades.

Details on the November 20th meeting and additional information on changes under consideration can be found on the Town of Easton’s official site here

Centreville’s Russian Compound Gathers Dust While Awaiting Fate

The soccer field is still trimmed to perfection, but no Russians will be gracing the pitch anytime soon. Nor will they be staying in either of the two Georgian-style mansions or in any of the ten bungalows clustered on the 45-acre waterfront property.

Russia’s luxurious “dacha” on Maryland’s Eastern Shore sits eerily empty and waiting, a casualty of the diplomatic row with the United States that flared after it became clear the Russians meddled extensively with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Shuttered by the Obama administration last December, the spread is perched at the intersection of the Corsica and Chester Rivers in Centreville, Queen Anne’s County, Maryland, a town with a population of less than 5,000. In addition to the two large estate houses, it contains ten guest bungalows, a small apartment building, four tennis courts, two pools, a boathouse and a private beach.

Known locally as “Pioneer Point,” the Russian diplomatic compound was originally part of a 1,600-acre property owned by John Jakob Raskob, a wealthy industrialist best known for building the Empire State Building in New York.

Raskob, who once worked as a personal secretary for businessman and philanthropist Pierre S. du Pont, made his fortune in the auto industry, helping to manage General Motors from its infancy to one of the world’s most powerful car makers. It was Raskob’s idea to launch a financing arm for the company, a venture that became General Motors Acceptance Corp., or GMAC.

Raskob’s house at Pioneer Point, the 19-room mansion once called “Hartefeld Hall,” is the centerpiece of the current Russian compound, built at some point after the land was acquired in 1925. Raskob constructed a second estate house shortly thereafter for his 13 children, who named it “Mostley Hall,” because it was mostly a long hall of a building.

Raskob passed away in 1950 and the property changed hands a few times until 1972, when what was then the Soviet Union acquired it.

Shortly after the Russians arrived in Centreville, the FBI did too.

“In the early days, they were the subject of enormous curiosity by the FBI,” Stephen Wilson, president of Queen Anne County’s Board of Commissioners, told Capital News Service. He lives across the river from Pioneer Point.

“The FBI used to send people down here with binoculars, who would stare across the river, as if there was something to be learned about Russians sitting on a beach,” Wilson recalled.

According to Wilson, one idea floated by the feds was to watch the Russians via submarine, a plan Wilson described as “comic” because the Corsica River is only about 10 feet deep.

However, the U.S. government eventually found a way to keep a closer eye on the compound. A property that borders it is still registered to the State Department, according to tax records, which put the value of the Russian spread at close to $9 million.

Judging from how little the Russians interacted with the locals over the years, they likely had a sense they were being watched.

“I would say for the most part they stayed to themselves,” said Joseph Connor, whose family has owned the property a few doors down from the compound for longer than the Russians have occupied it. “You didn’t see them unless they walked out.”

However, locals were occasionally invited over for parties. Connor said he went a few times and that the food was good, the company was likewise, and the vodka flowed freely.

Now that the Russians are gone, local feelings are mixed.

“You had two different reactions from the community when it was closed down,” said Queen Anne’s County Sheriff Gary Hofmann, who visited the compound once as part of an official invite to a group of elected officials. “You had a lot of people saying ‘Wow, I never knew that (compound) was there.’ And then you had people who were sorry to see some of the folks who they met in the past leave the compound.”

As for the property itself, Hofmann said: “It wasn’t what I thought it would be. There were no secret operatives walking around. It wasn’t like (there were) these covert tunnels we could find.”

Whether the Russians were using the property for work, play or both, it doesn’t appear Pioneer Point will welcome back its owners anytime soon.

In August, under threat of a veto override from Congress, President Donald Trump signed a new foreign sanctions bill that was partially authored by Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland. In it, the president’s ability to return diplomatic property in Maryland and elsewhere was made subject to congressional review.

After signing the bill, which included measures against North Korea and Iran as well as Russia, Trump called the legislation “significantly flawed.”

“We hope there will be cooperation between our two countries (U.S. and Russia) on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary,” Trump added.

Earlier this month, Cardin accused the Trump administration of not enforcing the sanctions outlined in the bill, which he tied to the fate of the Centreville property.

“At this time, the senator (Cardin) believes there is no scenario in which the compounds should be returned to the Russians,” Sean Bartlett, the Democratic spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Capital News Service. “He does not believe they have been held accountable for their attack on our election. Despite Congress’ strong sanctions bill, the president has yet to begin enforcing it.”

Maintaining the 45-acre spread now falls to the State Department, which seized the compound under authority of the Foreign Missions Act. The legislation gives the secretary of state wide latitude over diplomatic facilities in order “to protect the interests of the United States.”

“We seek better relations with Russia, as the president and Secretary (Rex Tillerson) have said time and again,” said a State Department official authorized only to speak on background. “But we will also be clear-eyed in our engagement with Russia.”

In response to the closing of the Maryland compound and one in Long Island, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the United States in July to reduce its diplomatic footprint in Russia by 755 people.

When asked on state-run Russian TV why he did it, Putin said: “Because the American side undertook the unprovoked, which is a very important, step in the deterioration of Russian-American relations…”

The U.S. intelligence community had a decidedly different assessment.

A report from the director of national intelligence in January stated: “Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations.”

The Obama executive order that directed the State Department to shutter the Maryland and Long Island compounds in December 2016 said they were “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes…”

Since then, three more Russian diplomatic facilities have been ordered shut by the State Department, including a consulate in San Francisco and annexes in New York and Washington.

How long Pioneer Point remains closed is anyone’s guess, but there’s a chance it won’t remain abandoned for long. The Foreign Missions Act allows for a diplomatic property to be sold by the State Department after it has been vacated for a year.

The catch is the Russians would get the money.


Maryland Legislators Developing Ways to Entice Developers to Combat Homelessness

Maryland legislators are considering how to entice private developers to build more homes for low-income families as affordable housing in Maryland is becoming increasingly difficult to find, and lawmakers are particularly worried about unaccompanied youth left without stable shelter.

The General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Ending Homelessness is taking steps toward crafting a bill that would provide financial benefits to for-profit and nonprofit developers for building affordable housing units, according to Delegate Mary Washington, D-Baltimore.

“Consistently, we are hearing that one of the barriers around housing and stability is the high price of housing,” Washington, one of the committee chairs, said last week. “So we want to incentivize people to build affordable housing.”

About 72 percent of extremely low-income households in Maryland pay more than 50 percent of their income toward housing expenses, according to census data from 2011-2015.

This makes owning, or renting, a living space incredibly difficult and risky, according to United Way of Central Maryland CEO Franklyn Baker.

“There’s no rain plan or safety net if you get sick” or have other emergencies, Baker said.

A crucial factor for affordable housing for low-income households is funding from state and federal governments.

One key program is the Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, which provides states an annual allocation based on population. Last year, Maryland was awarded $13.8 million in these tax credits to distribute to developers, according to Novogradac and Co.

Under the program, private developers agree to provide housing to low-income families at below market value. The residences must remain affordable for 30 years, when the agreement between developers and the government expires.

After three decades, private developers maintain control of the property and can charge what they wish.

Across the various programs within the state last year, developers requested $93 million in total funding, yet only $47.5 million was awarded, according to the Community Development Network of Maryland.

Of that, developers requested $56.5 million in Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, but only $27.5 million was awarded between federal tax credits and state subsidies, according to the Affordable Housing Resource Center.

Developers of more than 3,500 affordable housing units in Maryland sought funding this year, but only 43 percent, or 1,505 units, were funded, according to the Community Development Network of Maryland.

The tax credits for nearly 35 percent of federally subsidized housing in Maryland will expire by 2020, meaning that those residences will no longer be set aside as affordable housing, according to the National Housing Preservation Database.

Owners of the developments would have to re-apply for Low Income Housing Tax Credits and therefore sacrifice potential profits at market value, according to Odette Ramos, executive director of Community Development Network of Maryland.

These public-private agreements are critical to providing affordable housing to impoverished communities, so the Community Development Network of Maryland is asking the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to help allocate money for these projects, Ramos said.

Representatives from the Community Development Network of Maryland also called the 1999 Assisted Affordable Housing Preservation Act outdated, and suggested that the state update its local laws and practices. The act does not require property owners to contact local social services, which creates a disconnect and leaves families without benefits, Ramos said.

Many of those without housing in Maryland are young adults who have issues with drugs, teen pregnancy, or other issues out of their control, according to the Maryland Department of Human Services.

Additionally, nearly 70 percent of youth entering out-of-home placement, which includes foster care, had prior issues with neglect, causing developmental and psychological problems, according to the Maryland Department of Human Services.

In 2016, 1,223 people younger than 25 were surveyed in homeless shelters and through affiliated agencies. Results showed that 893 young people were independent from a guardian and without a stable housing situation, and were classified by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development as unaccompanied homeless youth.

In a 2015 survey of unaccompanied youth, the Maryland Department of Human Resources found 474 unaccompanied youth living in non-traditional housing, according to Amanda Miller with the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

Even for children with guardians to care for them, though, life can be difficult.

State Sen. Joanne Benson, D-Prince George’s County, recounted a story of visiting Prince George’s County’s Shepherd’s Cove Women’s shelter and witnessing more than 60 children with their parents and unable to get services parent.

“I must say, it is very difficult for me to sit on this committee,” Benson said. “These services are absent for them and they’ve lost hope. Homelessness is unacceptable.”

By Josh Schmidt

Affordable Care Act: One Young Cancer Patient in Maryland

Presents sat unopened in her family’s Davidsonville house in April, while at Johns Hopkins Hospital her parents told her she had Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancerous tumor growing in her stomach. The disease is so rare that only about 225 children in the United States are diagnosed each year.

Ella Edwards, 9, holds the opening page of a story she is writing about her fight with cancer. Ella was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma on her birthday. Capital News Service photo by Aaron Rosa.

The Edwards family entered a new reality of oncologists and treatments.

“It was crazy fast,” Jen Edwards said. “We were taken up to oncology, and I was thinking, what are we doing here? There are kids with cancer here.

“At that point we weren’t even thinking of insurance.”

The Edwards family hadn’t been following the congressional debates over the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” But now they, like millions of other Americans, would have to deal with a pre-existing condition — which before the Affordable Care Act meant companies could refuse insurance.

Though Congress and the Trump Administration have tried — and failed — to repeal President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, these patients remain worried about their future.

“The ACA was something I never paid attention to,” Jen Edwards said. “You just assume your child is never going to get sick and be healthy all their lives.”

Brian Edwards runs Hague Quality Water, a water treatment company, owned by his father, that has been in his family over 20 years. He purchased health insurance for his children, which, he said, cost less than what he would have to pay through work.

A week before Ella’s birthday, a stomach flu hit the family, but Ella did not respond to the usual medications.

Ella Edwards walks into the room where she will receive the third of six proton radiotherapy treatments. Capital News Service photo by Aaron Rosa.

Doctors at Anne Arundel Medical Center found a grapefruit-sized tumor pressing against her bladder and transferred her immediately to Johns Hopkins University for further testing.

There, the doctors diagnosed the cancer. And two days after her parents took her to the hospital for what they thought was a stomach bug, Ella began receiving chemotherapy.

At Hopkins, Jen Edwards recalls, hospital administrators made a crucial discovery: Ella had been admitted through the emergency room. If Ella was discharged, Johns Hopkins would not readmit her because, though the emergency visit was covered, Hopkins did not accept her insurance for continuing treatment, a staff member confirmed.

They stopped the family from leaving. The administrators recommended that Brian Edwards purchase a new plan, under “Obamacare,” that would cover Ella’s future treatment — avoiding a bill of $80,000.

In a stroke of luck, Hague Quality Water was in a two-week period where the business could choose a new insurance provider for their employees. Brian Edwards switched his company’s coverage to Evergreen Health, a plan on the state health exchange that offered in-state health insurance for Ella’s condition.

Ella’s newly diagnosed cancer is included on a list of declinable conditions that would have caused her application for insurance to be automatically denied in all but five states before the health care law, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Evergreen Health’s monthly premium is $1,900, nearly 30 times the $66 premium he previously paid for insurance covering all his children — the policy from a company that Johns Hopkins would not accept.

“Even if you can’t pay the bills in that moment, you’re still going to do the treatment,” Jen Edwards said.

She leafed through a thick, worn binder filled with letters from doctors, scraps of paper with hastily jotted notes, and bills — dozens of bills.

Ella’s initial seven-day hospitalization topped $41,000, including $17,000 for room and board, and $20,000 for her first round of chemotherapy.

Four months of cancer treatments, visits with specialists, and hospitalizations racked up over $200,000. All but their $1,500 deductible was paid by their insurance company.

Before the Obama health care law, those costs led many families to bankruptcy.

A study conducted by Harvard University and published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2007 found that from 2001 to 2007, bankruptcies attributable to medical problems increased by 50 percent and comprised 67 percent of all bankruptcies in the United States.

Cost of life, a metric used to quantify one year of life with cancer treatment, rose from $54,100 in 1995, to $207,000 in 2013. This statistic does not include expenses like surgery or home care, nor does it account for the loss of income resulting from a chronic illness.

Brian and Jen Edwards held a different view of the health care law before Ella’s diagnosis. Back then, they viewed “Obamacare” as socialization of health care.

“For me, Ella’s cancer changed my perspective about the Affordable Care Act,” Jen Edwards said.

“Knowing some of these children that are also at Hopkins, I know their families can’t afford it,” she trails off. “Every child should get care.”

Jen Edwards has quit her job at a local church to care for Ella.

Brian Edwards supplements his work-provided policy with an additional policy to cover the more expensive drugs not covered by Evergreen.

The additional policy is income-based. With five children and a single income, the Edwards family qualifies for its insurance. But if Jen Edwards were to resume working and the family income increased, they would be ineligible.

But even with government subsidies, the Edwards family’s health insurance policies cost him over $2,500 a month.

“It’s overwhelming,” Brian Edwards said. “I don’t know how people do it without insurance.”

Ewing’s sarcoma has a good prognosis if it has not spread. Ella’s has spread to her lungs.

Ella has completed nine of 14 rounds of chemotherapy and is undergoing an eight-week proton radiotherapy treatment plan in lieu of a surgery that would have removed two of her vertebrae.

The family’s life is now shaped by cancer.

Ella and her siblings manned a lemonade stand on the side of a nearby road this summer to raise money for Ewing’s sarcoma research. The family visited Hershey Park. And Ella attended a special week-long camp sponsored by Johns Hopkins University Hospital and staffed by medical personnel.

What they did not do this summer was watch the healthcare debate on television.

Brian Edwards canceled their cable TV subscription. The Edwards children watch cartoons on Netflix.

“Nothing good comes from watching the news,” Brian Edwards said.
But the next wave of bad news didn’t come through the television. It came in the mail.

As a non-profit, Evergreen could no longer cover the costs of its clients, and in a final desperate measure, converted to a for-profit model and sought an outside investor.

Investors dropped out of the Evergreen acquisition deal this summer. In August, the Edwards family received a letter from Evergreen Health announcing that it would be going out of business, honoring existing contracts but closing its doors for good in 2018.

“We’ve been lucky to have coverage so far,” Brian Edwards said softly. “But with Evergreen going out of business, next year is going to be very different.”

Brian Edwards again switched his company’s insurance from Evergreen to Maryland Blue Cross Blue Shield.

His monthly premium increased by $400.

By Aaron Rosa


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