As we conclude Women’s History Month and begin Earth Month, it is an appropriate time to reflect on one of Montgomery County’s most historic and important women who had a profound influence and legacy throughout our world, as well as on me personally: Rachel Carson of Silver Spring.
Her 1962 book Silent Spring inspired countless people to commit to fighting for the protection of our environment and habitat. When I read it, it was extremely educational and it came at a time when no one was really talking about the environment. It was a seminal publication that began a shift in thinking. Ms. Carson was ahead of her time, and her compassion and foresight helped guide generations who continue to fight for better policies and more thoughtful behaviors that will help save this planet and our survival.
Ms. Carson once said, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”
This April, in honor of Earth Month, I encourage you to read or re-read Silent Spring, as we celebrate the 60th anniversary since its publication. It is also a great time to learn more about the local hero who wrote it. I hope this book and the life of Ms. Carson encourage you, as it has me over the years, to recommit yourself to being a better steward and protector of this planet.
Beware the BA.2 Subvariant—Get Boosted
According to the CDC, our COVID-19 “Community Level” currently remains at “Low.” But we continue to monitor the increase in cases of the new BA.2 subvariant, which is now the dominant coronavirus strain in the United States. BA.2 has caused between 51 percent and 59 percent of all new COVID-19 infections throughout our nation the week ending March 26, up from an estimated 39 percent of all new infections the week before. The hardest-hit region was the Northeast, where BA.2 caused more than 70 percent of all cases.
With a potential rise in cases due to this new variant, vaccinations and boosters remain more important than ever. Please note: if you have not been boosted, your vaccine strength is probably waning. Boosters can make a huge difference. This week, the FDA announced the emergency use authorization of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to allow adults 50 and older to get a second booster shot four months after their first booster dose. The CDC also noted that adults who got Johnson & Johnson's vaccine as their primary and first booster shots at least four months ago may now get an additional booster of Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna's vaccines. Our County-operated clinics and private sector partners have started offering the fourth booster. We urge everyone eligible to get the additional booster. Please go to GOVAXMoCo.com for more information on where to get your shot.
No One Should Go Hungry
Over the past month, we have been taking time out to reflect on the past two years where everyone was impacted by COVID-19. We have been recognizing those we lost, honoring our public health and healthcare workers, promoting our housing, food and rental relief efforts and thanking our essential workers. It has been an opportunity to appreciate the work of so many in confronting this ongoing crisis.
We are concluding our remembrance month with Food Security Week. It is an issue I have been worried about and focused on long before the pandemic arrived. Food Security Week highlights individuals and organizations that have provided necessities and other resources to people and families in need throughout the pandemic.
This week, along with our food security team, I visited La Villa in Gaithersburg and had a chance to meet with the owner, Edwin Arbaiza, and his staff, who helped provide thousands of meals to the community. We then went to Yad Yehuda’s Choice food Pantry, which specializes in providing Kosher meals. The amount of food they distributed increased 450 percent during the pandemic. We also went to the Silver Spring Christian Reformed Church food pantry, which has seen a 250 percent increase in demand for food before the pandemic.
These two food pantries are among more than 100 Food Assistance Providers in our County, many of whom are volunteer-based. Food Assistance Providers have distributed more than 41 million pounds of food, and more than 27 million prepared meals, to the County’s most vulnerable populations during this pandemic. The County could not have provided this level of help without the work and commitment of the many Food Assistance Providers.
I also want to thank Nourish Bethesda and Marriott for their work in distributing food for Afghan refugees, and I was pleased to be able to join them in their efforts last week.
As part of my Fiscal Year 2023 recommend operating budget, we have proposed an Office of Food Resilience that will continue the County Government’s partnerships and efforts that we have established during the last 24 months. I am also recommending enhanced grant funding for food assistance programs, and $4 million to directly provide food to individuals and families most at need.
While COVID highlighted the issue, food insecurity was not created by the pandemic. Unfortunately, it is a bigger problem that requires our continued investment in our resources and support for our community partners to ensure that no one in Montgomery County goes hungry.
MCPS Community Engagement Officer Update
I wanted to take a moment to update you regarding the modifications to the Community Engagement Officer program via a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the school system and the police department and with input from the County Council and others.
Last year, a MOU between the schools and the police department established Community Engagement Officers to replace School Resource Officers. The MOU was signed in August 2021, and it ended the role of police in school discipline.
That MOU was based on the plan that MCPS would have mental health and social workers in our schools to support students, expend restorative justice efforts, and work with MCPS security staff. Due to nationwide staffing shortages for social workers and behavioral health specialists, filling these positions has been slower than expected and MCPS has not been able to place them in the schools as planned.
In light of increasing serious incidents including multiple firearms-related issues, and the inability to enact the planned alternative, the MOU is currently being modified. MCPS has been clear that they need additional flexibility in the short-term as they – like so many places around the country - see a rise in serious incidents, ghost guns, and other challenges in the schools right now. While I support their need and request for flexibility, I want to be clear that the changes to the MOU will not change the basic tenet that police officers are not involved in school discipline or patrolling the halls. They will be available at different times in the day to deal with issues that are criminal, and which would normally require calling a police officer – weapons, sexual assaults, gang activity for example. We will also be receiving regular updates about how the program is functioning, and we are hopeful that the schools will soon be able to hire additional staff to support the mental and emotional well-being of our students. At that point, we will again review whether this CEO program modification is necessary.
Our students need support and mental health resources to help them cope with issues and circumstances that are unprecedented. If you or anyone you know is a qualified social worker and would be interested in this important job to help our students, I encourage you to apply through MCPS’s employment website.
Thanks to Our State Officials for Their Help, Including Support for An Educational and Life Sciences Hub
The 2022 Maryland General Assembly session is wrapping up in less than two weeks and we are receiving a lot of good news out of Annapolis. Although the State budget has not been finalized, so far, the State Legislature has recommended about $222 million in new and additional funding for projects throughout Montgomery County. This will ensure that key County projects will be able to make significant progress in the upcoming fiscal year.
We appreciate the hard work of the entire Montgomery County State Delegation during this year’s General Assembly session. We are grateful to our Senate and House leaders for working closely with their colleagues to ensure the County’s needs were met.
In addition, Governor Hogan announced a supplemental State budget this week, which included a $10 million allocation to help take further action for capital funding at the WMATA site in North Bethesda. These funds will allow us to continue to grow this vision of an educational and life sciences hub for the region. I want to thank Governor Hogan for his investment and continued commitment to Montgomery County.