Per Montgomery County:
As we begin to celebrate Halloween and head into the fall holidays, this is always a joyous time for children. One of the more difficult impacts of the pandemic has been the losses our children have experienced in education, socialization, and emotional growth, and we don’t know whether there will be long-term effects. However, over the past 20 months, parents, siblings, relatives, teachers, guardians, and community groups have done everything in their power, using technology and creativity to make the best of this bad situation for our children.
We have a lot to be thankful for now that the vaccine for kids is on the horizon, our students have returned to their classrooms, and we reside in one of the safest jurisdictions in this nation in terms of our vaccination rate and our COVID case rates. Just this week, the Baltimore Sun front page headline was that we reached 99.9 percent of the eligible population vaccinated. I was also interviewed on the BBC World News about this accomplishment. This is an incredible feat that we should celebrate as a community.
But we all know that this fight against the pandemic is not over. Even if you are vaccinated, you could still get sick and even die – especially if you have underlying conditions. And of course, children under 12 are not yet able to be vaccinated. We must continue our COVID safe habits – wearing masks indoors, socially distancing when we can, washing our hands, getting our flu shots, and never giving up on trying to convince anyone who is vaccine hesitant that it is safe, effective, and can save lives.
Don’t let Halloween celebrations bring you tricks!
If you are celebrating Halloween or other festivities, I encourage you to get COVID tested before and after any events or gatherings, whether you are vaccinated or not. Please don’t assume that just because we are vaccinated, we are immune to catching COVID (although the breakthrough cases are fewer and generally less severe – an important benefit of vaccination). Testing is available all around the County at pharmacies, grocery stores and medical providers. The County continues our own robust testing programs, testing approximately 5,000 people per week as a part of our efforts to keep infections down in communities.
Our school testing program is reducing quarantine numbers
Also related to testing, we have been working with the Montgomery County Public Schools to improve their testing system, providing staff, rapid tests and resources to address the situation. Our goal is to keep as many students as possible in school learning and reduce the numbers out on quarantine. The good news is that our approach has worked and we have successfully stood up a testing program that is reducing the number of quarantined students.
We have gone from 1,700-1,800 students quarantined in our first couple of weeks to currently 356. We are also finalizing our test-to-stay program which should further reduce the number of students quarantined. You can follow our progress on MCPS’s recently launched dashboard. This has been an excellent team effort between MCPS and our department of Health and Human Services and Covid response teams.
The learning loss that we saw last year highlights the importance of making sure our students are in the schools and classrooms as much as possible. As the school year continues, we will surely experience more challenges and even potential setbacks, but through partnership, collaboration, and communication we continue to ensure all our kids are experiencing in-class learning as much as possible.
This week, the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission appointed by the Governor released its redistricting maps for state and Congressional districts.
I’ve heard concern from community residents about these new districts, and I share their concern that these maps would divide communities, dilute minority representation, and weaken our position in Annapolis. These maps look like gerrymandering to me. It doesn’t surprise me, and shouldn’t surprise any of us. The map was created by the commission handpicked by Governor Hogan to come up with redistricting maps for state and Congressional districts[ clearly, they are not fair to Montgomery County. These maps would divide communities, dilute minority representation, and weaken our position in Annapolis.
However, this process is not finished. The General Assembly will review the maps and I’m confident that the General Assembly will pass maps that better reflect our communities. I urge you to review these proposed maps and testify before the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Committee hearing on Nov. 5 at The Universities at Shady Grove and ask them to reject this politically partisan map that shows disdain for our county. For more information about the upcoming public hearing, and to sign up to speak go to: https://planning.maryland.gov/Redistricting/Pages/default.aspx
Let’s keep climate action moving!
I want to remind President Biden and Congressional Democrats that the Oct. 31st deadline for passing the spending package contains funds to dramatically cut carbon emissions that are warming the planet and fueling climate disasters. These represent a historic set of policies that Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said would serve as “a model for the world.” Congress needs to pass this bill before the U.N. Climate Talks in Scotland in two weeks or we risk losing our standing that allows us to hold other countries equally accountable.
We are doing our part in Montgomery County with a very aggressive Climate Action Plans to reduce all of our carbon emissions by 2035. However, inaction on a global, national or even local level will hurt efforts on an issue that we are already years, if not decades, behind on seriously addressing. I sent legislation to our County Council back in April regarding Building Energy Performance Standards, or BEPS (Bill 16-21), that is key to our carbon emission reduction goals. I am very pleased that the Council will begin to review this legislation next Thursday, Oct. 28 at 9:30 a.m. I continue to encourage the Council as well as all residents who want to address climate change to act and be heard.
Recognizing the work of our nonprofit partners
As parts of our life returning to normal in different ways, we must not forget the tens of thousands of our neighbors throughout our County who are ill, hurting financially, ailing with mental health issues due to stress, or are caretaking for an ill family member. Over the next two months, I will travel throughout the County visiting our nonprofit and community organizations who are on the frontlines of helping those facing challenges. Whether it is volunteering your time or donating money or resources, so many of you are giving back to the community through our nonprofits and I thank them and you for all your efforts.
We also want to ensure the safety of our nonprofit organizations as well. I want to remind nonprofit organizations that they have until 5 p.m. this coming Monday, Oct. 25, to submit their applications for the Nonprofit Security Grants. We approved $700,000 to be used for nonprofit organizations experiencing hate crimes or at significant risk of becoming targets of hate crimes. These grants are available to augment costs for security personnel or other security planning measures for nonprofit organizations located in our County. Learn more about this grant at https://buff.ly/3psVgpZ.
Connecting with and supporting our small businesses
One recent example of the deadly impacts of climate change was the flooding that occurred last month following the remnants of Tropical Storm Ida. We are very appreciative of the Small Business Association’s offer of low interest disaster loans for impacted residents and businesses. On our end, the County government and our partners will make sure all who our eligible are aware of this opportunity to help them recover and rebuild from damage incurred.
Loans up to $200,000 are available to homeowners to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate. Homeowners and renters are eligible for loans up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property. Applicants may be eligible for a loan amount increase up to 20 percent of their physical damages, as verified by the SBA for mitigation purposes. Eligible mitigation improvements may include a safe room or storm shelter, sump pump, French drain or retaining wall to help protect property and occupants from future damage caused by a similar disaster. Applicants may apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via SBA’s secure website at DisasterLoanAssistance.sba.gov/ and should apply under SBA declaration #17229, not for the COVID-19 incident.
Support small businesses!
I was pleased to speak at the Montgomery County Small Business Association Networking event this week – a wonderful organization that is a great advocate for our county businesses. Small businesses are responsible for two-thirds of our businesses, and are the heart of our growing economy. And I am very proud of our record of increasing county procurement dollars for local, small, minority and women-owned county businesses. In fact, we had a record-breaking year in fiscal year 2021 in the Minority, Female and Disabled Persons owned (MFD) businesses; the spending increased from 20 percent to almost 27 percent. We also increased our spending on local businesses by $20 million last year.
My goal is to find, help, and grow more small businesses in Montgomery County. You can find links to workshops on small business loan applications, legal requirements for small businesses, navigating the marketplace and more here.
You can still learn about the budget
This week, we concluded our series of hybrid regional budget forums in our five regional service center communities. These budget forums are important events for us to update the public on our upcoming FY23 budget process and outlook as well provide opportunities for the public to give us input and feedback. I want to thank all our residents who attended, asked questions, and brought up important issues and priorities. We are planning two more upcoming budget forums, one for our Spanish Speaking residents and another at Leisure World for our senior population. If you missed any of these budget forums you can re-watch them on our website and on our social media platforms.
- Budget Forum – Bethesda 10/5 7-8:30 p.m.
- Budget Forum – Silver Spring 10/6 7-8:30 p.m.
- Budget Forum – East County 10/13 7-8:30 p.m.
- Budget Forum – Up County 10/18 7-8:30 p.m.
- Budget Forum – Mid-County 10/19 7-8:30 p.m.
Like many around Maryland, I was surprised to read that this week that Maryland Treasurer Nancy Kopp announced her retirement and Attorney General Brian Frosh announced he was not going to run for another term. It will be hard to imagine Maryland without them in service, but their legacies will live onin the years ahead.
For over five decades, Nancy Kopp has served the State of Maryland and Montgomery County with grace and honesty while remaining true to her convictions and always standing up to powerful special interests on behalf of the voiceless. She has been not only a trailblazing pioneer for women throughout Maryland, but an innovator as both a legislator and treasurer. Her leadership helped our State to become one of the best in our nation. I am thankful for her counsel and friendship and wish her all the best during her well-deserved retirement.
I also want to thank Brian Frosh for his many decades of service to the people of Montgomery County and Maryland. Brian Frosh has been an outstanding Attorney General and we have all benefited from his wisdom, character, and leadership. We were fortunate that Brian was willing to be a national leader in the effort to fight back against the unconstitutional actions of the Trump Administration. While most people know Brian in his role as Maryland’s Attorney General, many people may not know he was a central leader in the effort to combat climate change and to protect our environment during his many years of distinguished service in the Maryland General Assembly representing Bethesda. Our State, our environment and our community are better for Brian’s commitment to justice and equality.
As always, with appreciation for all of you,