We knew this was going to happen and it has begun. Last month, abortion was outlawed in five states. Now, because of court rulings and other factors, there are a total of 12 states with laws heavily restricting women’s health care options.
In Montgomery County, we realized early on that more of the burden will undoubtedly fall on health care professionals in areas like ours. It is why we have finalized the application process for $1 million dollars in assistance meant to help abortion providers and organizations that support them.
We now have a website set up to take those applications and hope to get the money allocated to qualified groups and organizations that support women’s health care providers as soon as we can. We appreciate the support from our State and Federal delegations, and the County Council, for these efforts.
We will continue our efforts to reach out to businesses in states that restrict the rights of women who may be looking to relocate. We are in the process of researching specific corporations, companies and organizations that are likely considering moves out of these states that are threatening the health and safety of their workforce. We are also currently reviewing marketing strategy proposals on how to best target and find business owners, board of directors and other leaders who will be receptive to our County’s booming economic opportunities—as well as our welcoming and inclusive communities.
New school year begins
I joined Dr. Monifa McKnight, our Board of Education and several County Councilmembers on Monday in welcoming students back to school.
I was particularly thrilled to see kids inside our new Harriet R. Tubman Elementary School in Gaithersburg. I remember from my days as a teacher how energizing the start of school can be. Just imagine: if instead of walking into the same old building you got to open a new school like these students did. Not only is it a great for our kids, it is also wonderful news for the Gaithersburg area because a new school eases the burden on other elementary schools in terms of class size and overcrowding issues.
If you would like to see more from inside Harriet R. Tubman Elementary and other MCPS schools on our tour, follow this link to the County Flickr account.
Dr. McKnight announced that our schools are 99 percent staffed, including fulfilling MCPS’s needs for bus drivers and substitute teachers. I am very optimistic about this school year, but we have a lot of work still to do with our students to get them caught up following the learning loss incurred during the health crisis. I am proud of the success we had over the summer through programs like our new IgnITe Hub and with community partners such as the newly opened KID Museum in Bethesda.
This summer, Montgomery County Public Libraries’ “Summer Reading Challenge!” served 13,000 kids—more than any other year since they started this program in 2015. I believe kids were inspired to complete reading challenges to help “Save the Chesapeake Bay,” as well as to earn a free book or tickets to a Wahington Nationals game. Thanks to our library leaders, supporters and parents for such a successful and innovative program. Reading is essential to development of our students—especially our youngest children.
I look forward to more collaborations and partnerships between our government and MCPS throughout the school year. The success of our students does not just begin and end in our classrooms. We must ensure that their education, safety and health is supported in their homes and our community.
Celebrating Harriet Tubman this weekend
There are few Marylanders as important to American History as Harriet Tubman. This year marks the 200th anniversary of her birth.
We recognize September as “International Underground Railroad Month.” I encourage all families to take the time to learn and teach about the scourge of slavery, the importance of the Underground Railroad and the bravery of leaders like her and Frederick Douglas.
Learn more about this history on Saturday, Sept. 3, at Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park in Sandy Spring with children’s activities and guided hikes along the Underground Railroad Trail. Advanced registrations are recommended through Montgomery Parks.
Good news: COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations trending down
Case rates for COVID-19 and hospitalization numbers related to the virus continue to trend downward, keeping Montgomery County’s current community level at “low.”
However, we have seen nine deaths from COVID in just the last week, bringing our deaths related to COVID this month to 29. This is in line with what we have seen throughout the summer. Since the start of June, we have averaged nearly one death per day. Many of them were unvaccinated.
The Food and Drug Administration announced this week that it has authorized the use of a new booster shot, retooled to tackle the Omicron virus. The County Department of Health and Human Services is preparing for its arrival. I hope that this will help increase booster rates and lower case rates.
Friday, Sept. 2, is last day to order free COVID tests from Federal government
The Federal government announced this week that it was discontinuing free at-home tests through the mail. I encourage everyone to visit covid.gov/tests before the program ends on Friday, Sept. 2, to receive their third round of free tests.
The good news is that Montgomery County is going to continue providing free take-home rapid tests at our libraries. More than 30,000 COVID tests were taken home last week. With school back in session, identifying COVID early can be the key in preventing an outbreak.
More monkeypox vaccines on the way
Montgomery County is scheduled to receive another shipment of the monkeypox vaccines. That, along with a change in the way we administer the vaccine, means soon there will be many more doses available for the more than 3,400 people currently on our pre-registration list.
This week, the Maryland Department of Health shared for the first-time the breakdown information of the nearly 500 monkeypox cases across the State. About 12 percent of cases in Maryland have been identified in Montgomery County.
Another virtual town hall meeting on monkeypox is planned for from 6-7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 12. For information on monkeypox, visit our County website.
One year since deadly flooding in Rockville
We released our Climate Action Plan assessment this week, looking back at our first year of action on Montgomery County’s lofty climate goals. It coincides with National Preparedness Month, which runs through September. The goal is to raise awareness about the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies, which could happen at any time. I encourage you to sign up with Alert Montgomery to help stay on top of extreme heat events or sudden thunderstorms.
We know how deadly flash flooding can be. It has been a year since the remnants of a tropical depression led to heavy rain and flooding that sent many people in two Rockville apartment buildings running for their lives. Fire and Rescue leaders said water levels rose quickly and reached as high as seven feet in some of those apartments. Nineteen-year-old Melkin Daniel Cedillo died in the flooding.
With our Climate Action Plan, we are working to avert similar disasters and decrease pollution by cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2027 and 100 percent by 2035.
Our report focused on 75 accomplishments made since the Climate Action Plan was put in motion in June of 2021 They include:
- Instillation of more than 1,000 new residential solar panels and two community solar projects for low- and moderate-income residents.
- New Building Energy Performance Standards, which requires minimum energy performance thresholds for existing covered buildings.
- 25 electric MCPS buses have arrived as part of a plan to replace 326 diesel buses with electric school buses over four years.
- Tree Montgomery planted 1,700 trees in the last fiscal year. It is part of an effort that saw more than 7,450 shade trees planted through spring 2022 across Montgomery County.
- Our Department of Environmental Protection completed the construction of Glenmont Forest Green Streets, with 53 rain gardens, bio-retention gardens, and tree boxes installed.
- 35 early-warning flood sensors that can alert residents sooner about high water or flooding events are being placed.
There are now educational workshops and forums focused on public engagement of environmental issues, thanks to the Climate Action Plan. Between now and next summer, you will see more changes, such as solar panel installations at schools, maintenance yards and parking lots. Electric vehicle charging stations are coming to many local libraries and recreation centers. New technology and hard work from Montgomery County’s heat mapping volunteers also will allow environmentalists to get a better sense of where new trees are needed most.
I am proud of the County’s efforts to be a leader in environmental reform and look forward to the positive benefits we will all get from the Climate Action Plan.
Montgomery ‘Goes Purple’
Montgomery marked its Seventh “International Overdose Awareness Day” this week and launched the “Montgomery Goes Purple Initiative” by mourning the sons, daughters, fathers and mothers who make up the list of fatal victims. Sadly, we have added eight names to that list so far this year and our sympathies and condolences are with their family and friends.
Fortunately, we are seeing progress though. Overdoses overall are down from their 2021 pace—248 this year compared to 351 at this point last year. We must continue our efforts to reduce the harm overdoses and substance misuse can cause. As advocates point out, the stigma of drug or alcohol addiction often prevents people from seeking help. We have to work hard as a community to remove barriers that would prevent someone from asking for help. As we have seen, the risks of ignoring issues can be deadly.
We have also seen recent advances in our efforts to hold wrongdoers accountable in connection with the opioid crisis. A settlement has been finalized in connection with a lawsuit brought against three pharmaceutical distributors of opioids—McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen—and manufacturer Janssen Pharmaceuticals and its parent company, Johnson and Johnson. The funds from that settlement will be used to expand and enhance the County’s opioid abatement measures. It was announced in spring that a national settlement with Perdue Pharma and the Sackler family could total up to $6 billion, with Maryland expected to receive $121 to $132 million. The Perdue/Sackler settlement has yet to be cleared by a bankruptcy judge involved in the case.
If you or anyone you know needs immediate help with substance misuse, call our 24-hour crisis center at 240-777-4000. Information about all the County’s resources available to combat addiction can be found here.
September is African Heritage Month
September is African Heritage Month. Approximately 15 percent of our foreign-born population is African and their communities and cultures are an important part of our County’s diversity. I wish all residents from the African diaspora a wonderful Heritage month and encourage all residents to attend our community celebrations.
I will be attending Ethiopian Day festivities on Saturday, Sept. 4, at the Silver Spring Civic Building. At 7 p.m. on Thursday Sept. 8, the County’s African Affairs Advisory Group will be hosting “Striving for Equity,” a virtual evening celebrating the 14th annual proclamation of African Heritage Month. To register for this discussion, click here. I am also looking forward to attending the Pan African Festival, “Panafest 2022,” on Saturday, Sept. 24, at Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring.
Please join me in honoring, celebrating, and learning about our African communities this month.
Honoring our workers this Monday
I want to wish everyone a Happy Labor Day.
As a supporter or labor unions, it is important that people understand their role in creating a more just society. Eight-hour workdays, 40-hour work weeks, sick leave, pensions, health care and outlawing child labor all came about because of the efforts of working people and their organizations. Fair treatment and better pay for employees are often hard-won victories. Similarly, the battles for equal rights, civil rights and women’s rights were all things that, for much of our history, corporations initially opposed. While it is good that much of that has become accepted in our society, it did not happen absent the struggle of people to build better lives for themselves. All of us are better off today because of what they did.
One of my proudest accomplishments has been leading the effort to increase our County’s minimum wage. Legislation was passed in 2017 to raise the minimum wage incrementally each July 1. This July, the minimum wage increased to $15.65 for companies employing more than 50 people.
There is still work to be done to get many people above the minimum wage and into a livable wage. However, lately we have seen several labor victories.
Last week, I stood with SEIU Local 500 members as they fought for pay increases at American University. After five days on strike and 468 days at the bargaining table, the AU Staff Union celebrated its first contract. I am pleased that AU conceded to these demands and proud that the workers earned more benefits.
Unions are gaining strength nationwide with young workers driving a boom not seen in nearly 20 years. Amazon, Apple and Starbucks are just a few employers seeing how motivated their workforces can be. Locally, I support the efforts in Olney by Starbucks employees. They recently shut down the store for a weekend to drive a clear message to their corporate owners that concerns need to be addressed.
This Labor Day will also mark the return of two community celebrations. The 55th Annual Labor Day Parade and Festival in Kensington starts at 10 a.m. on Monday. The Gaithersburg Labor Day Parade returns after a two-year hiatus, marching from 1-3 p.m. on Monday in Olde Towne Gaithersburg.
I look forward to everyone on Labor Day showing appreciation for the working men and women of Montgomery County.
As always, my appreciation for all of you,