Per Montgomery County:
Good financial news never gets old. This month, we once again the County’s unemployment numbers remained at a 33-year low in County unemployment numbers. July figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show Montgomery County’s jobless rate remains at just 1.5 percent, matching June’s numbers and tied for the lowest unemployment marks in Montgomery County since 1990.
This is the first time we have ever held an unemployment rate this low for two straight months. The record low rate occurred even as nationwide unemployment rates rose slightly from 3.5 percent to 3.8 percent.
In other big news, Montgomery County has earned another Triple-A rating from all three rating agencies—Fitch, Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. Only about 50 out of 3,000 counties nationwide earn such high marks for fiscal prudence.
Achieving a triple “Triple-A” means that Montgomery County is a top-rated issuer of municipal bonds and that we can borrow money—sell long-term bonds—for capital improvements at the most favorable rates, which saves money. Think of it like having a perfect credit score—borrowing money is cheaper when you have a higher credit score. That frees up more money for capital and infrastructure projects like schools, libraries and transit.
Montgomery County has a long history of meeting its financial responsibilities. Fitch has given a AAA rating to Montgomery County for the past 34 years. It is a 49-year streak for the Standard and Poor’s AAA rating and Moody’s gave Montgomery County its 51st consecutive AAA mark.
The Moody’s report stated:
“The AAA issuer rating reflects the County’s robust and diverse local economy that benefits from institutional presence of the Federal government, its healthy reserves that are expected to remain in line through fiscal 2023 and its relatively low leverage . . . The stable outlook reflects the expectation that the County’s finances will remain strong and its leverage will remain low while it continues to address annual capital projects.”
The Standard & Poor’s report stated:
“We view Montgomery County’s governance as a strength given the County’s history of being proactive in implementing policies and procedures that promote strong governance and in line with industry best practices.”
The Fitch Ratings report stated:
“Fitch views the County’s financial resilience as superior, reflecting a combination of solid expenditure flexibility, demonstrated cost-cutting in response to weakened revenues and timely adjustments to revenue projections, which have resulted in consistent reserve levels through the economic cycle.”
We are seeing the benefits of our policies over the last several years and we are aggressively courting new companies who are eager to grow and expand. We have seen our life sciences community grow from fourth-largest in the nation to third, and around four million square feet of lab space has been built or is under development since I became County Executive. The key sectors of Montgomery County’s tourism industry have surpassed, or are moving back toward, pre-pandemic levels. There have been steady increases in spending, hotel occupancy rates, hotel tax collections and State sales and use tax.
I want to thank our Department of Finance, our Office of Management and Budget and the County Council for their hard work and partnership to achieve this important recognition once again.
We Are Working to End Childhood Hunger
I remember when I was a teacher there were some students who only received a hot meal when they were at school. A long weekend meant an extra day away from not just the classroom, but access to the school cafeteria. School meals have become lifelines for too many students whose families are mired in poverty or making sacrifices that sometimes include choosing medicine or rent instead of meals at home. I appreciate the National School Lunch Program and the expansion of the Maryland Meals for Achievement program, but they are not helping enough children.
As of 2021, at least 14 percent of children in Montgomery County were experiencing food insecurity. Families in our area that are struggling can run into barriers accessing government food programs because of income or citizen status.
Last year, Montgomery County added an Office of Food Systems Resilience to help fill the gaps that we see across departments, so our entire government and our partners are working together on hunger and other food issues.
This week, our County’s plan for ending childhood hunger was publicly shared for the first time. It comes after months of interviews with close to 150 people representing the government, community organizations, nonprofits and the private sector. It took an immense amount of cooperation to identify ways to address food insecurity in schools and at home. You can read more about it at Montgomery County Maryland (montgomerycountymd.gov). Our resources are not unlimited, which is why this initiative is important. We are expanding programs that are strategic to get food to the families in need, reduce food waste and make efficient use of local growers. We are collaborating, listening and improving how we tackle this issue.
I want to thank our community partners, including Montgomery County Public Schools, Manna and the Montgomery Food Council, for their work. This is an ambitious plan that will improve tens of thousands of lives and give these residents a better chance of success in school and in life. You can read the plan at StrategicPlan2023_rev9signed.pdf (montgomerycountymd.gov)
Climate Message of the Week: Hottest Summer Ever
And this graphic in the article was alarming, showing 2023 as an outlier.
If this summer is not a reason that all policy makers in every community, state and nation on earth need to quickly get serious about accelerating our efforts in terms of combatting climate change, I don’t know what is.
I am proud that our County has one of the most aggressive Climate Action Plans anywhere in our nation. Our goal of reducing 100 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 is 10 years earlier than the similar state goal by 2045. We have passed Building Energy Performance Standards legislation, or BEPS, as well as the Electrification Bill. We are building microgrids Microgrid (montgomerycountymd.gov) to improve our resiliency, as well as converting our fleet of vehicles to electric, and hydrogen fuel for our buses. We continue to promote the transition and adaptation of EVs.
However, Montgomery County is not going to solve this problem on our own. We must continue to be engaged and active to push more aggressive actions at the State, Federal and global levels.
Please read this interesting article from NASA about “The Effects of Climate Change.” This article states, “Humans have caused major climate changes to happen already, and we have set in motion more changes still. However, if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, the rise in global temperatures would begin to flatten within a few years. Temperatures would then plateau but remain well-elevated for many, many centuries. There is a time lag between what we do and when we feel it, but that lag is less than a decade.”
Time is of the essence. We must act now before it is too late.
We join in the recognition of September as National Suicide Prevention Month. Suicide is a very difficult issue to talk about, let alone prevent. That is why it is important to share helpful resources and stories that promote suicide prevention awareness.
During my media briefing this week, I invited Bob Koffman, a retired Navy captain and vice chair of the County’s Commission on Veterans Affairs, to talk about suicide prevention among those who served in our military community. You can listen at https://youtu.be/gbRyu9f_wLc?si=WTysDtyeZZe2EtkI&t=823
Statistics on suicide from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs show the yearly death rate is nearly double among veterans compared to the general population. For the first time since 2006, the average number of vets lost to suicide every year dropped from 22 to 17. Additional mental health care has likely contributed to those improved numbers.
Dr. Koffman shared with us examples of new research and studies that include the use of psychedelics that are being used to help veterans deal with PTSD and depression. I encourage anyone who is or knows of a veteran struggling with PTSD, depression, or any other mental health issues, to reach out to our Veterans Commission and our Health and Human Services Department for help.
Last summer, a nationwide suicide prevention crisis line, 988lifeline.org, was launched to make it easier for people to remember the three-digit number and call for help. It provides a direct connection to support for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis, having thoughts of suicide, or worried about someone who may need crisis support.
The County’s local 988 call line, run by EveryMind, is accessible 24 hours a day and is available for English and Spanish speakers. In the year since 988 was launched, more than 300 Montgomery County residents called for help. Trained staff are ready to take phone calls or text with someone who needs support.
Montgomery County families have an additional tool to help prevent suicide. The County, along with our partners at EveryMind and MCPS, created the BtheOne.org website in 2017. You can view it at btheone.org
This website takes users through a series of five steps meant to help identify someone who may be struggling with fear and embarrassment. Those steps are 1. Ask. 2. Keep Them Safe. 3. Be There 4. Help Them Connect. And 5. Follow Up.
Many times those on the verge of taking their own lives will not reach out for help and tend to isolate themselves. That is why it is important to take the extra steps to identify warning signs and be blunt with questions like,
- Are you thinking about killing yourself?
- How much are you drinking/using drugs?
The answers may be hard to hear but they could be another important factor in saving lives.
African Heritage Month Celebrated
This week we held an event to proclaim and celebrate African Heritage Month. Our African Diaspora is very diverse and cannot be viewed or engaged with homogeneously. This community consists of 54 different African Countries, and consists of a variety of ethnicities, languages, religions and diversity of cultures. This is one of the fastest-growing immigrant communities in Montgomery County and in the State of Maryland.
I was pleased to announce that, through a County grant, we are able to host Panafest in Silver Spring on Sept. 23. This is an incredible event that draws thousands of people from around our region to celebrate in Montgomery County. This is a great festival featuring the music, art and culture of Africa. I look forward to attending again.
I also want to share with you an opportunity to learn how to bring some of the tastes from Africa into your kitchen. Ethiopian chef Beth Yohannes is hosting a virtual cooking lesson this Monday, Sept. 11, from the Lemon Slice Café in Silver Spring. She will be discussing family food traditions and showing how to prepare some traditional dishes from 7-9 p.m. You can follow this link or email [email protected] if you would like to be part of the virtual panel being assembled for the event.
The County is also a proud supporter of the Gilchrist Immigrant Resource Center, which offers classes, connections to groups that offer immigration assistance and resources that are able to help with legal issues. Help for immigrants is spread across our County with employees ready to help in Wheaton, East County and Gaithersburg with an East County satellite being added soon.
I encourage everyone to look through some of the photos captured during the African Heritage Month forum and celebration which you can find here.
Fall Festival Season Begins with Silver Spring Jazz Festival
This weekend begins our fall festival season. The annual Silver Spring Jazz Festival is this Saturday, Sept. 9. The festival, which will start at 3 p.m. on Veterans Plaza, will feature free performances with various types of traditional and multicultural jazz sounds.
For 18 years, this festival has attracted world renown artists as well as tens of thousands of jazz aficionados and music lovers to downtown Silver Spring. This year, we expect big crowds and a lot of excitement for legendary jazz vocalist, Dee Dee Bridgewater, the festival’s headlining act. Come to the festival and enjoy the eclectic and diverse people, cultures and cuisines of the Silver Spring Arts and Entertainment District.
On Sunday, Salvadoran culture will be celebrated at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds with Festival Salvadoreno. This annual celebration draws thousands of people to honor El Salvador’s Independence Day, which is Sept. 15, the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Montgomery County and the DMV’s largest immigrant community is from El Salvador. Yelp knows there’s a big audience here because it has created a “Top 10” for Best Salvadoran Food around Montgomery County, which you can see here.
Tickets are on sale for the event which will draw people from all over our region and the East Coast to celebrate. For many, it is worth a long trip, but for us, it is right in our backyard. Please enjoy what should be another lively celebration.
We Honor Our Labor and Unions
I want to thank everyone who braved the intense heat on Labor Day to watch the parade in Kensington. It was unfortunate that the Gaithersburg Parade was cancelled due to weather concerns, but with that parade being later in the day, it was probably a smart and safe decision.
The Kensington parade gave everyone on my team a chance to promote the Career Fair and Hiring Expo that is happening at the Silver Spring Civic Building on Tuesday, Oct. 3.
Many departments are looking for help. The needs vary from engineers to grant writers to mechanics. If you know someone who is out of work or looking for a new opportunity, let them know that this opportunity is around the corner.
Labor Day also gave me another opportunity to thank the men and women behind our local labor unions. Unions make our County and country better. Unions led the major fights for minimum wages, abolishing child labor, the 40-hour week, paid vacations and sick leave and more. We owe them so much for improving the quality of life for so many people. I am encouraged to see the ranks of unionized workers growing nationally in the face of states that are trying to roll back workers’ rights and reintroduce child labor – something that I find absolutely shocking and obscene. For all of the workers who continue to build this country, whether you are in or out of a union, Labor Day is for you.
You can read my entire statement on the importance of Labor Day by clicking here.
Community Health Report
We are seeing more of our friends and coworkers dealing with COVID-19 again. Statistically, numbers have only climbed slightly from last week, but they have been steadily rising since the beginning of August.
This is not a surprise. School has started and many others are returning to the office.
Be prepared, but do not panic. Wash your hands regularly. For those who test positive, the CDC still recommends five days of isolation, to lessen the spread.
Health experts say doctors and patients should talk before a positive Covid test to map out the best plan. Older adults and those that are vulnerable may be told to go on the drug Paxlovid to help lessen symptoms and the duration of the virus. Everyone should get the new COVID-19 booster when it becomes available. News reports indicate that it could be on track to get approved and be available soon.
The virus is spreading, but not causing many serious illnesses. So far, our hospitalization rates are not increasing to levels that are straining the hospitals. Our community health status remains low, but we need to be aware, as always, that this ever-morphing virus continues to mutate and continues to pose health risks.
‘Community Conversations’ About Upcoming FY 25 Budget Begin Next Week
Our first “community conversation” about our upcoming Fiscal Year 2025 budget will be next Thursday, Sept. 14, at the Mid-County Community Recreation Center in Layhill.
This year, we have increased the number of budget forums from eight to 10 to be even more inclusive. We hold these community conversations to give people a chance to be heard because your voice matters. The ideas and feedback we hear drive our decisions and our priorities for the next fiscal year.
The budget not only reflects the County’s needs and concerns, but our community’s values and goals. I encourage residents to participate in these conversations because their voice shapes our path forward.
- Mid-County Community Conversation. Thursday, Sept. 14. 7-8:30 p.m. Mid-County Recreation Center (Layhill), Social Hall, 2004 Queensguard Road, Silver Spring. Click here to view online.)
- Spanish Language Community Conversation. Thursday, Sept. 21. 7-8:30 p.m. Mid-County Recreation Center (Layhill), Social Hall, 2004 Queensguard Road, Silver Spring. Click here to view online.)
- UpCounty Community Conversation. Tuesday, Sept. 26. 7-8:30 p.m. BlackRock Center for the Arts, 12901 Town Commons Drive, Germantown.
- Bethesda-Chevy Chase Community Conversation. Wednesday, Sept. 27. 7-8:30 p.m. Bethesda – Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, 4805 Edgemoor Lane, East West Room, Bethesda.
- PTA Community Conversation. Monday, Oct. 16. 7-8:30 p.m. Executive Office Building, Cafeteria, 101 Monroe St., Rockville.
- Amharic Language Community Conversation. Wednesday, Oct. 18. 7-8:30 p.m. Montgomery College – Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus, 7600 Takoma Ave., Takoma Park.
- Silver Spring Community Conversation. Monday, Nov. 13. 7-8:30 p.m. Silver Spring Civic Center Building, 1 Veterans Place, Spring Room, Silver Spring.
- East County Community Conversation. Wednesday, Nov. 15. 7-8:30 p.m. White Oak Community Recreation Center, 1700 April Lane, Social Hall, Silver Spring. Hybrid (link to view online to be announced).
- Seniors Community Conversation. Monday, Dec. 11. 2-3:30 p.m. Leisure World, Clubhouse 1, Crystal Ballroom, 3701 Rossmore Blvd., Silver Spring. Only Leisure World residents may participate in person. Hybrid (link to view online to be announced).
- Chinese Language Community Conversation. Date and location to be announced.
Montgomery County Turns 247
Finally, happy birthday to Montgomery County. It has been 247 years since the Maryland State Legislature created Montgomery County. There is a lot to celebrate and be proud of since railroad tracks were laid down and Montgomery County first became a community.
As always, my appreciation for all of you,