Per Montgomery County:
As we commemorate Veterans Day, I want to thank the tens of thousands of Montgomery County veterans and County employees for their service to our country. We are also grateful to our military families for their dedication and sacrifice to support their loved ones who served.
We know that many of our veterans have suffered. They have dealt with mental health turmoil and post-traumatic stress disorder. Over the past five years, our homeless services have treated and housed more than 200 homeless veterans toward our goal of ending veterans’ homelessness. And the COVID-19 health crisis has been quite difficult for many of our veterans who have had to deal with job loss, increased isolation, substance misuse and stress. Over the past few months, many veterans who served in Afghanistan have had increased anxiety and frustration of the images and outcome of that conflict.
We will continue to honor our veterans and their families by ensuring that our County, in concert with the State of Maryland and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, provide the support that our veterans need and deserve. From job training and hiring to mental and physical health resources, veterans should contact and engage with our Montgomery County Commission on Veterans Affairs at Montgomerycountymd.gov/veterans.
We are vaccinating 5-to-11-year-olds!
Over the past few months, we have been proud that 99 percent of our eligible population has had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. It has been an extraordinary accomplishment. Now the overall “eligible population” has expanded to include 5-to-11-year-olds. Of course, that means the 99 percent number will go down as we begin vaccinating this newly eligible population. Even now, about 78 percent of the County’s total population is fully vaccinated, and 87 percent has had at least one dose. Over the next several weeks, I look forward to seeing an increase in these percentages as we continue to vaccinate more of our 5-11 year-old population.
Our efforts to vaccinate these children is off to a good start. Since last Thursday—less than a week ago—the County Health and Human Services Department has vaccinated more than 9,500 children, which is about 9 percent of our estimated population of kids 5-to-11. Additionally, private providers have also been vaccinating children. As you may know, we started vaccinating this age group days before many of our neighboring jurisdictions and as soon as we had the authorization to proceed. According to the latest state numbers, Montgomery County represents more than 50 percent of all 5-to11 year-old vaccinations throughout the State.
This smooth roll out is not occurring by happenstance. Organizing logistics for these additional vaccine rollouts has been going on for months and now we are seeing the results of good planning. We have learned from the past and have improved the integration of our vaccine deployment systems both in the public and private sectors so that our kids are getting these vaccines as efficiently as possible.
COVID-19 cases seem to be at a plateau
Despite having the best numbers in the State, our COVID-19 case rate numbers seem to have plateaued right around the point between “Substantial” and “Moderate” transmission levels as defined by the CDC. The County’s indoor mask mandate is currently not in effect in accordance to County Council regulations. However, I continue to urge everyone to wear masks indoors in publicly accessible areas, regardless of whether you are required to do so.
In every Montgomery County establishment I have been in, people are wearing masks even without the mandate. We have a culture of protecting ourselves and others from the virus, and our vigilance has been key to our success as a County in our fight against COVID. I want to continue to thank our residents and businesses for doing what is right and continuing to wear masks indoors.
I also want to note how prolific our testing has been here and thank all of those who continue to work on these operations. We have surpassed 350,000 tests from the Department of Health and Human Services. That does not include the hundreds of thousands of additional tests from private sector providers. It is a good sign for the County that since the lull in testing in the summer, there have been significant increases in our testing rates. All of you clearly understand that testing for this virus is so important to our mitigation efforts. Testing is an important component to slowing the spread of the virus and I continue to encourage everyone to “test to protect” one another. For more information on COVID testing, please click here.
Making progress on infrastructure, economic development and permitting
I was pleased that Congress finally passed the $1.75 trillion dollar infrastructure bill. I want to send my thanks to our Montgomery County Congressional Delegation for its hard work and advocacy to get this passed.
Over the summer, when we were debating with the Governor over the future of the American Legion Bridge, I-495 and I-270, we asked the State to wait on its overly expensive plan until this Federal bill passed to see what we could get for these major infrastructure projects. Instead, the Governor rammed through the Transportation Planning Board and the Board of Public Works an expensive Public-Private Partnership to create a bad deal, a bad design and the wrong choice for Montgomery County and the region. Now that this Infrastructure deal has passed, I hope that the State will consider Federal investment for this project.
I testified at the Maryland Department of Transportation Consolidated Transportation Program presentation to the Montgomery County Delegation regarding the plan. During my testimony, I addressed our Vision Zero safety goals, State highway investments, the Purple Line and WMATA issues, infrastructure funding and the I-270 reconstruction.
The State of Maryland recently announced that it is has a $2.5 billion dollar budget surplus. This is great news and creates a wonderful opportunity for the State to make its own infrastructure investments. Assistance with our efforts to expand our Bus Rapid Transit system and finishing the Purple Line are a couple of possible ways to use the surplus. We need more smart and sustainable investments to help our fight against climate change and its impacts.
Increasing our investments in infrastructure from the Federal, State and local government are important because we need to keep up with the increase in private sector investments. According to the Maryland Daily Record, Montgomery County companies are having a record year for IPO, private investment and venture capital funding, topping $18 billion in more than 76 companies across life sciences, health tech, media and quantum industries. By comparison, $4 billion was invested in Montgomery County companies in 2020. So far in 2021, that number has jumped 450 percent to $18 billion.
The bottom line is that we are working nonstop to make it easier to do business here in Montgomery County. When I was first elected, Councilmember Sidney Katz and I conducted a listening tour with County business owners and residents. We repeatedly heard concerns about the County’s permitting process. Since then, we have increased the productivity at our Department of Permitting Services (DPS) despite the challenges of the pandemic. We have also improved customer service by adding residential online offerings to our website, and we are about to launch a new online permitting system that will integrate the entire permitting process virtually. This will be a gamechanger and word is getting out among commercial and residential permit customers how much better our system is now.
Earlier this year, DPS received an email from a customer that read, “You have inspired DPS to work together and to get things done in ways I have never seen in my 35 years of work with County government.” This is the type of positive feedback we are regularly hearing now, and as DPS continues to improve, we expect more of our residents and businesses will be noticing that we are more “open for business” than ever before. For more information about DPS, visit https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/dps/
County hosts first all-Spanish budget forum
We had a great turnout for our first ever all-Spanish language budget forum. People came with their children and families to participate. I want to thank the County staff and community organizations for making the event a success. The questions and comments from the attendees were great. We had translators there who translated questions for me and my answers. It really worked out well. This was the first, but it will not be the last. Thanks to the community for coming out and engaging. I heard your issues and concerns. To watch this forum, click here.
Touring regions of the County, visiting nonprofits
As we head into the holiday season and end of the year, I am traveling around the County to visit some of our nonprofit organizations and local businesses. Last week, I was in the UpCounty where I met with Women Who Care Ministries (WWCM). It is a community outreach nonprofit based in Montgomery Village that is celebrating 20 years of service this year. The primary mission of this organization is to help people in need, primarily through offering food and other services to low-income residents. I was impressed by its “Helping Kids Eat, Backpack Weekend Meal Program” that provides non-perishable food items to low-income children each Friday for weekend consumption. As a teacher, I knew students who were hungry on Monday because their last hot meal was lunch in school on Friday. I appreciate the work of Women Who Care Ministries and the many other organizations helping our residents in need. I also had the opportunity last week to talk with and thank the members of the Black Ministers Conference for their member organizations’ work and efforts during this pandemic.
I was also glad to stop by and dine at Il Porto, a restaurant in Gaithersburg that is celebrating 25 years of business in Montgomery County. Owner Alberto Cruz, an immigrant from El Salvador, opened Il Porto in 1996 after working at several Italian restaurants throughout the region. He now owns three restaurants of his own and represents the success that entrepreneurs can have in our County. I am looking forward to other visits over the next several weeks.
As you celebrate the holidays with your families, please remember to volunteer with nonprofits or donate food or money to those who are helping our neighbors in need. The greatest gifts we can give others is our generosity.
As always, my sincere appreciation for all you do,