Baltimore pastors, rabbis and imams recently gathered together at Gospel Tabernacle Baptist Church on Walbrook Avenue in Baltimore to speak with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) about how the Inflation Reduction Act will impact their congregants and community members. (Photo by Chris Van Hollen on Instagram)

By Marnita Coleman,
Special to the AFRO,
mcoleman@afro.com

On Sept. 6, Senator Chris Van Hollen spoke in depth about the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 before a group of faith-based leaders gathered at the Gospel Tabernacle Baptist Church on Walbrook Avenue in Baltimore. 

This stop was the first of three sessions, sponsored by the Maryland Health Care for All! Coalition and Chesapeake Climate Action Network Action Fund to spread the news about the landmark law which aims to curb inflation by reducing the deficit, lower prescription drug prices, and address climate change.

“It is evident to me that inflation has reached every area of our life. When it comes to medication, prescriptions, and the like, my congregation struggles with paying the cost of just living,” said Bishop Reginald Lamont Kennedy, senior pastor of the host church. “I opened the church so that the religious leaders across the spectrum of denominations could come and hear directly from Senator Van Hollen.”

The event was not just limited to Black church leaders and congregants. 

“Jewish individuals, priests, rabbis, and imams are here. I think part of the reason is for us to help share with those under our influence how the Inflation Reduction Act can benefit them, and maybe hearing it from their trusted leader will make a greater impact,” said Kennedy. 

Van Hollen started by speaking about the healthcare provisions, noting that there are two major components to the law– health care and clean energy. 

“These measures are paid for by overdue reforms to our corporate tax system. Because of that, in addition to paying for many of the initiatives, the annual 15 percent minimum corporate income tax will reduce our federal deficit, which puts downward pressure over time on inflation and rising costs,” boasted Van Hollen.

Due to unemployment and the impact of the pandemic, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) which was passed in March 2021, increased the amount of premium support for people enrolled in the Affordable Care Act program.  As a result, about 150,000 Marylanders benefited in different ways and on average saved $80 a month. That benefit was scheduled to expire at the end of this year, but has been extended for a period of three years through the new law. 

Eligibility of income has also been broadened in order for more people to participate and get some premium support. The goal is to offer it indefinitely.

With regard to prescription drugs, under the law, the Medicare program has been given the power to negotiate drug prices. It will not happen overnight, but will be phased in over a period of time. It will bring down prices for the Medicare program which enrolls about a million Marylanders protecting them from astronomical costs of prescription drugs due to their illnesses. For instance, next year there will be a $35 a month cap maximum on insulin. 

There will be a $2,000 per year cap on total out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs under Medicare Part D that will be phased in up to the year 2025. After that, no one will pay more than $2,000 out-of-pocket expenses annually. And, the law guarantees free vaccines to seniors and those on Medicare.

Bishop Robert E. Farrow of Mt. Calvary Church and Ministries in East Baltimore was in attendance for the event.

“I will take this information back to my congregation so they can understand it and share it with other people. I agreed with the statement of Dr. Sandra Conners, pastor of Shepherd’s Heart Missionary Baptist Church in Baltimore, that we should be concerned about the health of people,” said Farrow. “I think too often we‘re not holistic. We take care of the soul, and forget about the body. So I feel that this is of major importance, and too often that aspect of the ministry is overlooked.”

Van Hollen also spoke about how the law will hopefully improve the environment and communities in which his constituents and others live.

“Climate change is here now, and we not only want to reduce the harm, but we see incredible opportunities from investing in clean energy and opportunities for every part of our society, good paying jobs, and lower costs of energy. It gets us closer to what our goal is, which is to reduce current greenhouse emissions by 50 percent by the year 2030.”

There are also tax incentives to encourage people to buy clean vehicles by making them more affordable. 

Through Hope for Homes, consumers will receive help with making their homes more energy efficient and save on energy costs which greatly benefits communities of color and low-income areas saving up to $750 a year. 

The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund seeks to use $27 billion for focused investments in clean energy projects. By 2030, about 40 percent of the Greenhouse Reduction Funds are directed to go to lower-income communities, including many communities of color that have been left behind when it comes to past initiatives on the environment. 

Rev. William Johnson, from Sharon Baptist Church on Stricker Street, said his take away from this meeting was that there have been great strides made towards bringing about health equity and access to healthcare, which is important for our community. From the federal government standpoint, strategic measures are finally being put in place to deal with energy issues that will benefit our community.

For more information on the Inflation Reduction Act, log onto www.whitehouse.gov

(https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/08/19/fact-sheet-the-inflation-reduction-act-supports-workers-and-families/#:~:text=The%20Inflation%20Reduction%20Act%20lowers,union%20jobs%20across%20the%20country.)

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