Sen. Kagan & Del. Peña-Melnyk: Filling the Employment Gaps

March 18, 2022

Maryland Matters
Guest commentary

Employment photo by Ron Lach.

By Sen. Cheryl Kagan and Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk

Kagan represents Montgomery County’s District 17 in the Maryland Senate and is the vice chair of the Education Health & Environmental Affairs Committee. Pena-Melnyk represents Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties’ District 21 in the House of Delegates. Both are Democrats.

Everyone has heard about the Great Resignation. Many have also experienced the repercussions of the crisis-level shortage of health care workers. Nursing has been particularly affected by the ongoing pandemic; the Maryland Hospital Association reports that there are roughly 3,900 open nursing positions – a 50% spike since last August.

These vacancies put our families and neighbors at risk of receiving substandard care. A recent study found that nursing shortages have had disastrous impacts on patients, including increased errors and higher death rates.

We are sponsoring SB523/HB533, which would provide a simple solution.

Maryland provides scholarship funds, free community college and in-state tuition rates to support the thousands of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students who are eager to begin their careers. And yet, after years of state-subsidized education and training, Maryland laws effectively slam the door in their faces.

SB523/HB533 will allow eligible individuals who are not yet citizens to obtain occupational licensure, similar to the laws enacted in 14 other states. Roughly 40% of Marylanders work in jobs requiring licenses. This includes at least 130 occupations such as teachers, electricians, home aides, mental health practitioners, social workers, police officers, veterinarians, plumbers, cosmetologists and building contractors.

Our legislation will allow talented individuals to help fill crisis-level vacancies. If this does not pass, Maryland will have spent thousands of dollars nurturing the careers of immigrant students – only to see them and their families be tempted to move out of state. Maryland would lose the millions of dollars in revenue that these new employees would contribute to our economy.

Allowing qualified individuals, regardless of immigration status, to obtain occupational or professional licensure will boost our economy; increase the cultural competency of our departments; increase language diversity in our workplaces; allow Maryland to maximize our investment in the education of student immigrants; promote self-sufficiency in our immigrant communities; and address our dangerous staffing shortages.