Sen. Eckardt's Update: State supports agriculture-related projects

By Addie Eckardt, Special to Dorchester Banner
Posted 6/26/22

ANNAPOLIS - On June 11, we cut the ribbon for the Salisbury Animal Health Laboratory, celebrating the opening of the new facility.

The updated facility, which replaces the original lab built in …

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Sen. Eckardt's Update: State supports agriculture-related projects

Posted

ANNAPOLIS - On June 11, we cut the ribbon for the Salisbury Animal Health Laboratory, celebrating the opening of the new facility.

The updated facility, which replaces the original lab built in 1953, provides state-of-the-art equipment and larger work spaces as well as a Biosafety Level 3 (BSL3) laboratory for advanced diagnostic work. In addition to expanding the lab’s capacity and capabilities, the new facility is LEED Silver certified and has hook-ups for natural gas to improve the building’s energy efficiency.

The state of Maryland provided nearly $20 million for the project.

MDA works closely with state and federal counterparts as well as private and commercial veterinarians to protect Maryland’s agriculture industry — the state’s largest commercial industry — against infectious diseases like avian influenza and equine infectious anemia. The new Salisbury Animal Health Diagnostic Laboratory, which specializes in poultry disease, has played a critical role in assisting the region in detecting and containing the spread of avian influenza during the recent outbreak this spring.

As the leading industry in Maryland, agriculture contributes $16 billion to the state’s economy and supports more than 65,000 jobs. There are 12,429 farms occupying nearly 2 million acres of land statewide.

Farm Service Agency

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency is now accepting nominations for county committee members. Elections will occur in certain Local Administrative Areas for members. LAAs are elective areas for FSA committees in a single county or multi-county jurisdiction. This may include LAAs that are focused on an urban or suburban area.

County committee members make important decisions about how federal farm programs are administered locally. All nomination forms for the 2022 election must be postmarked or received in the local FSA office by Aug. 1.

Agricultural producers who participate or cooperate in a USDA program and reside in the LAA that is up for election this year may be nominated for candidacy for the county committee. A cooperating producer is someone who has provided information about their farming or ranching operation to FSA, even if they have not applied or received program benefits.

Individuals may nominate themselves or others and qualifying organizations may also nominate candidates. USDA encourages minority producers, women and beginning farmers or ranchers to nominate, vote and hold office.

Producers should contact their local FSA office to register and find out how to get involved in their county’s election, including if their LAA is up for election this year. To be considered, a producer must be registered and sign an FSA-669A nomination form. Urban farmers should use an FSA-669-A-3 for urban county committees. The form and other information about FSA county committee elections are available at fsa.usda.gov/elections. 

Election ballots will be mailed to eligible voters beginning Nov. 7. Producers can find their local USDA Service Center at farmers.gov/service-locator. 

Water Assistance Program

The Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program is available statewide and provides Maryland households with financial relief toward water and/or wastewater bills. Eligible households may receive up to $2,000. LIHWAP funding is limited, and applications will be accepted on a first come, first served basis.

To be eligible for LIHWAP, an applicant must meet the following criteria:

  • The applicant (or a member of the household) must be a U.S. citizen or qualified non-citizen.
  • The applicant must be a Maryland resident who is responsible for a water and/or wastewater bill issued by a public water system or treatment works and must live at the property for which assistance is being provided.
  • The applicant must submit a current water and/or wastewater bill showing accrued arrearages of at least $100.
  • The total household income (previous 30 days) may not exceed the gross income threshold which is 60% of the State Median Income.
  • An applicant may be categorically eligible if they (or someone in their household) are receiving one of the following benefits at the time of application:

Low Income Household Energy Assistance (MEAP)

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP)

Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA)

Temporary Disability Assistance (TDAP)

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Emergency Rental Assistance (ERAP)

Means Tested Veterans Benefits

You can apply for LIHWAP assistance online using the consumer portal at mymdthink.maryland.gov. If you are unable to apply online, you may request an application be mailed to you through the service hotline at 1-800-332-6347 or by calling your local Department of Social Services or Office of Home Energy Programs office. A printable paper application can be found at dhs.maryland.gov/office-of-home- energy-programs/low-income-household-water- assistance-program.

You can connect with LIHWAP Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. by calling their customer service hotline at 1-800-332-6347 or by calling your local Department of Social Services or Office of Home Energy Programs office.

National Folk Festival

The 81st National Folk Festival announced the Maryland Traditions Folklife Area & Stage program, sharing details about the performers, craftspeople and demonstrators who will be featured in this special area of the festival in 2022. The National Folk Festival is returning to Downtown Salisbury on a new weekend, Aug. 26-28, for the final year of the event’s residency on Maryland’s historic Eastern Shore.

The Maryland Traditions Folklife Area & Stage celebrates and showcases the rich, living traditions that create identity and sense of place in communities across the state. With a different theme each year, the Folklife Area will shine a spotlight on the distinctive music, rituals, crafts, occupations, foodways and other traditions at the heart of Maryland heritage. Performances, demonstrations, displays, exhibits and narrative presentations by Maryland masters will express both the state’s deep history and its evolving character. 

The Maryland at Work program will feature individuals from across the state, including:

  • Black Women’s Hair: Salisbury Style, demonstrating Black hair braiding techniques and shining a light on one Salisbury family’s story of a multigenerational tradition shared among women that inspired a professional calling.
  • Habitat for Humanity of Wicomico County, building two sheds to highlight its vision for providing housing for low-income families through community service.
  • Mark Wiest of Tilghman Island, showcasing boatbuilding skills and traditional woodworking methods through a mast-carving demonstration.
  • Maryland Spirituals Initiative Ensemble of the Eastern Shore, an intergenerational choir performing uplifting, inspiring standards from the African American spirituals tradition that invoke the region’s unique role in the struggle for freedom and equality.

The 81st National Folk Festival will feature approximately 350 musicians, dancers, puppeteers, storytellers and crafts demonstrators, continuous performances on multiple outdoor stages, the Maryland Traditions Folklife Area & Stage, a participatory dance pavilion, a Family Area, a Festival Marketplace, and regional and ethnic foods. The three-day festival is free to the public.

Caroline Foundation grants

The Caroline Foundation, in partnership with the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, invites organizations that provide medical and/or health-related services to residents of Caroline County to apply for FY2023 grant funding. Applicants must be nonprofit corporations with IRS tax-exempt status, or government-related entities.

Applications are online at .mscf.org/caroline-foundation. The deadline for submission is July 1.

Grant decisions and distributions will be made in October. The Caroline Foundation retains the right to accept or reject applications, suggest changes, and support grant requests in full, in part, or not at all.

Organizations that would like additional information about The Caroline Foundation’s grants process should contact Robbin Hill at Mid-Shore Community Foundation, 410-820-8175 ext. 103 or rhill@mscf.org.

Maryland Public Service Commission

There are new rules that oversee electric/gas retail suppliers and the offers that they can give to utility customers who receive assistance from the Office of Home Energy Programs.

The commission has opened Public Conference 55 (PC55) and invites your thoughts on what this process should involve.

Crab Winter Dredge Survey

Results from the 2022 winter dredge survey have been made available on the DNR website. The survey is the only bay-wide fishery-independent effort to estimate the number of blue crabs living in the Chesapeake Bay.

The winter dredge survey produces information that is essential for the management of the species, such as an estimate of the number of crabs over-wintering in the bay and the number of young crabs entering the population each year. To read more about how the survey is conducted and to view the results from this winter, go to dnr.maryland.gov/fisheries/pages/blue-crab/dredge.aspx.

Project Restore

Project Restore will provide $25 million to fill vacant retail and commercial buildings and support business investment, job creation and economic growth in Maryland’s communities. Businesses opening or expanding into vacant retail and commercial properties may be eligible for Project Restore grants from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. Project Restore grants can help new and growing businesses with rent payments and operating costs in their first year.

Project Restore provides two grant opportunities for businesses, including nonprofits, that are expanding, moving to or opening in a property that was previously vacant for at least six months:

Property Assistance Grant: Provides up to $30,000 for one year to support costs associated with rent, mortgage payment or property improvements as applicable.

Business Operations Grant: For businesses that generate sales and use tax, provides up to $250,000 per calendar year to support capital (property improvements, equipment, etc.) and operating (staff salaries, marketing, inventory, etc.) costs associated with business operations in the vacant property.  

Please visit dhcd.maryland.gov/projectrestore for more details and how to apply.

Addie Eckardt represents District 37 in the Maryland State Senate.