By Peter Franchot

This holiday season is bringing a lot of financial challenges to many struggling Maryland families and businesses.

From small mom-and-pop stores to national corporations, COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on retailers, restaurants, manufacturers and nearly every type of business, causing some to permanently close and putting many others on the brink.

Family budgets also have been squeezed with Marylanders filing for unemployment in record numbers. Although some have regained their jobs, many more have not and are struggling to make ends meet.

With coronavirus cases exploding nationally and here in Maryland, uncertainty reigns during a time of year when we try to put our worries aside to focus on family and festive celebrations.

It’s also typically a time of year when we are mindful of our vulnerable communities and those who are less fortunate. We may volunteer time at a local homeless shelter, donate to a food bank or contribute to a local nonprofit’s wish list for needy families. Direct donations may help with a car payment, a needed household repair or a utility bill.

The pandemic has made it more important than ever to help our fellow Marylanders. The demand for basic necessities is greater and many families need a helping hand to receive holiday cheer.

We can all do our part – even something as simple as going through a closet to find coats, sweaters, socks and other warm garments that are most in need during the cold winter months.

At the Comptroller’s Office, we try to lead by example. Each year, employees throughout the agency give monetary and other donations that are distributed to help families in need, people with disabilities and senior citizens living on fixed incomes. We also encourage staff to participate in the annual Maryland Charity Campaign and hold several fundraising events – virtually this year – to benefit the effort that supports numerous worthy nonprofits.

I have seen the generosity and goodwill of Marylanders on many occasions and am confident that giving spirit will occur again – even during a difficult year for many.

For those who do plan to give to charity this year, your donations may be tax deductible, thanks to the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Previously, charitable contributions could only be deducted if taxpayers itemized their deductions. However, the CARES Act allows taxpayers who don’t itemize to take a deduction of up to $300 for cash donations made in 2020 to qualifying organizations. The CARES Act also suspends limits on charitable contributions and temporarily increases limits on contributions of food inventory.

So there is even more incentive to engage in philanthropy for those who can.

This holiday season may look and feel different – less traveling, fewer people around the dinner table and virtual celebrations replacing in-person gatherings – but I encourage each of you to make the most of it in your own special way. Be safe, stay socially distanced, limit your interactions with those outside your household and, as Governor Hogan put it, “Wear The Damn Mask.”

Doing all these things, along with promising developments in vaccine production and a better coordinated response from all levels of government, will help us move towards a return to normal next year.

I have three grandchildren with whom I would love to spend the holidays, but I know the right thing to do, as hard as it may be, is to keep our festivities small in number and large in spirit. Making these small sacrifices now is the best gift we can give to our loved ones so that our future holiday celebrations can happen in person and without restrictions.

I wish all Marylanders a joyous, relaxing and meaningful holiday season. We deserve it.

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