Resources for Vulnerable Populations in Maryland during the COVID-19 Response

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is disproportionality affecting Maryland’s vulnerable populations, such as people experiencing homelessness, impoverished communities, people with disabilities, and people with substance use disorder. To help alleviate this burden, several Maryland state agencies have taken steps to facilitate access to programs and services that can assist those in need. Additionally, recent federal emergency legislation has directed funding to help state and local jurisdictions in serving these populations.

These services and programs are detailed below.

Guidance for Individuals Experiencing Homelessness

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed into law on March 18, 2020, designated $4 billion for Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG), which will be distributed to local jurisdictions that provide temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness. While each jurisdiction may handle this differently (e.g., contracting with nearby hotels), local health departments are typically responsible for the provision of shelter. This may be done in collaboration with other agencies within a given jurisdiction. Counties are encouraged to track all related expenses carefully in preparation for reimbursements from the federal government. We expected 100% of these expenses to be reimbursed through ESG funds.

The Maryland Department of Health (MDH) also recommends the following guidance for providing services to people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 outbreak:

Maryland Department of Human Services Programs

To further support Marylanders during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maryland Department of Human Services (DHS) has taken several steps to expedite various services. These steps include extending the recertification period and waiving work requirements associated with the programs listed below.

Food Supplement Program (FSP)

The FSP implements the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) in Maryland. The program helps low-income households buy the food they need for good health. On April 1, 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved Maryland’s application for increased SNAP benefits. DHS will distribute an additional $33 million through the SNAP program in April and May. During this crisis, DHS is also making the following accommodations:

  • Extended certification periods for SNAP households that were scheduled to expire in March, April, and May, for six months, until September, October, and November 2020, respectively.
  • Waived interview requirements for applicants whose identity can be verified through independent clearances. 
  • Waived work requirements for able-bodied adults without children or dependents who would otherwise be required to work to maintain their SNAP benefits.

Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) and Temporary Disability Assistance

TCA is Maryland’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. The program provides cash assistance to families with dependent children when available resources do not fully address the family’s needs and prepares program participants for independence through work. COVID-19 accommodations include:

  • Extended redetermination requirements for those Marylanders receiving cash benefits, such as TCA and Temporary Disability Assistance, for an additional six months.
  • Used emergency assistance to address the needs of residents who may be ineligible for the aforementioned assistance programs.

Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development Programs

The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) administers just under $10.5 million in federal and state funding through the Homelessness Solutions Program (HSP), which awards grants to 16 Continuums of Care (CoC) in Maryland. CoCs are entities across the country designated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to receive approximately $50 million in federal funds and are structured to cover the entire state of Maryland. HSP funds may be used for rental assistance, homelessness prevention assistance, outreach, and shelter operations. Federal CoC funds may be used for Permanent Supportive Housing and short-term rental assistance.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, DHCD has taken the following actions:

  • Lifted restrictions on moving funds among different funding categories. For example, grant recipients may move additional funds into: shelter operations to pay for personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, hotel/motel stays for isolation purposes, or reduction of population within a given shelter.
  • Waived a requirement that grantees conduct on-site inspections of units prior to providing prevention assistance.

DHCD has also been in close contact with MDH to determine the needs and develop solutions to the challenges posed by congregate living within shelters. CoCs have also been encouraged to work with local health departments as they develop community-wide responses. Additionally, DHCD has created a COVID-19 page on its website for providers serving low-income and vulnerable populations. Please visit for more information.

Maryland Department of Disabilities Programs

Below is a listing of the Maryland Department of Disabilities (MDOD) programs that currently have special accommodations and/or adaptations in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Attendant Care Program

The Attendant Care Program provides financial reimbursement to assist individuals with severe chronic or permanent physical disabilities who require attendant care services to direct their own care and to select their own service providers. Reimbursement may be available for attendant care services that are provided in the home, school, workplace, or other community locations. Recent accommodations include:

  • Suspended requirement for a doctor's certification (indicating that participants continue to meet a certain level of care for program eligibility) during its annual redeterminations. Participants only need to submit proof of financial eligibility and not programmatic eligibility.

Housing Program

MDOD manages the Section 811 Project Rental Assistance Program and The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation's Affordable Rental Housing Opportunities Initiative for Persons with Disabilities program, which makes homes in the community affordable for people with disabilities with low income.

As of March 3, 2020, a temporary hold was placed on tenant training for all 811 and Weinberg residents. MDH and MDOD have been coordinating on the development of a virtual, phone-based tenant training option for residents. Recent accommodations include:

  • Migrated all MDOD housing training sessions to a virtual format, and pushed several sessions to the next fiscal year.
  • Suspended direct contact between case management agencies and tenants in the program.
  • Commenced evaluation of modifications to leasing activities, such as a virtual apartment tours, scanning and sending of documentation with coordination from the nursing facility social workers, and more.

Maryland Technology Assistance Program

The Maryland Technology Assistance Program (MDTAP) aims to enhance the lives of all Marylanders with disabilities, older Marylanders, and their families by helping support access to assistive technology (AT) devices and services. Recent accommodations include:

  • Created an online resource of free AT apps, software, and subscription services during COVID to support families, students, and the general public who may not have access to the AT they typically use at work or school.
  • Worked to identify sanitation practices for the AT Shelter Kits and to identify a platform to create how-to videos for devices in the kits.

Access Maryland

Access Maryland is a program within MDTAP that provides funding to state-owned facilities, University System of Maryland campuses, and state-owned parks to make continued accessibility upgrades, consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accessible Design Standards of 2010. ADA requires that all programs, activities, and services of state and local governments be programmatically accessible to persons with disabilities. Recent accommodations include:

  • Extended deadline for Fiscal Year 2020 projects that were expected to fully expend funds and complete by June 30, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2020.

Assistive Technology Loan Program

The Assistive Technology Loan Program is a program within MDTAP and helps Maryland residents with disabilities and their families qualify for low-interest loans to buy equipment that will help them live, work, and learn more independently. Recent accommodations include:

  • Consulted with financial lenders working with our low-interest financial loan program to identify any exceptions/grace periods for loan repayments.

Assistive Technology Library

Assistive Technology Library is a program within MDTAP and is a free library available to Marylanders with disabilities, their families, and professionals and educators who work with people with disabilities. Recent accommodations include:

  • Began implementing best practices for virtual device demonstrations.
  • Met virtually with all MDTAP regional contractors to provide guidance on sanitation of all AT, lending library parameters, and best practices for online demonstrations.
  • Extended all AT device loans through April 30, 2020 in all office locations.

Guidance for Opioid Treatment Programs

On March 16, 2020, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) temporarily revised its guidance regarding prescriptions for patients in opioid treatment programs (OTP).

  • Allowed patients on medication assisted treatment programs (such as methadone treatment) to receive 28 days of take-home doses of medication for opioid use disorder.
  • Authorized up to 14 days of take-home medication for those patients who are less stable but whom the OTP believes can safely handle this level of take-home medication.

Behavioral Health Administration Guidance for Opioid Treatment Providers

In addition to the guidance issued by SAMHSA above, the Behavioral Health Administration (BHA) is also recommending that OTPs provide naloxone alongside extended supplies of take-home medication.
Pursuant to Governor Hogan’s Executive Order (No. 20-04-01-01) that expanded that access to telephonic and telemedicine services, BHA and Medicaid also issued guidance on the types of services that OTPs can deliver through telemedicine, relaxing most requirements that patients return to “originating sites” in order to receive care. Additional information is provided below.