October 6, 2022

Message from the County Executive

Dear Friends,

As we have heard a lot lately, cost increases due to inflation have impacted everyone and are hitting the poorest amongst us the hardest. One area of our economy where costs continue to rise, not necessarily because of inflation, is prescription drugs. The tragedy is, the less money you make, the more likely you are to cut pills in half or skip days on your medication.

That is not acceptable. We need a system that does not force people to choose between medicine and food. That is why I, along with bi-partisan leadership from around the State, supported the creation of Maryland’s Prescription Drug Affordability Board. This Prescription Drug Affordability Board is the first of its kind in our nation and is a model that other states are replicating.

This week, I joined Maryland Health Care for All, along with AARP Maryland, at a forum in Silver Spring to update the public on the work being done by this board. If the cost of prescription drugs is an issue that concerns your family, please watch the forum here. Maryland Health Care for All is also asking for everyone to share their stories if they have been negatively impacted by the costs of prescription drugs.

It is hard to find anyone who is not impacted by outrageous price increases for prescription medicine. Here is a look at the percentage of the prescription drug use over the last 30 days, broken down by age group:
  • 27 percent of adolescents aged 12-19
  • 47 percent of adults aged 20-59
  • 85 percent of adults 60 and over
We believe relief will come once we, as a state, are able to negotiate with the drug companies on prices. This effort will be helped by the recently passed federal Inflation Reduction Act which includs a provision granting Medicare the authority to negotiate with drug corporations - for the first time in our country’s history. Not only will this make prescription drugs more affordable for all Americans on Medicare, this will also provide our State’s Prescription Drug Affordability Board with a blueprint for determining appropriate upper payment levels to make high-cost drugs more affordable.

Controlling skyrocketing drug prices will also help taxpayers, local governments and other employers. It will help manage what Montgomery County and businesses pay to cover their employees’ prescription drug payments, as well as for their past employees, such as those on pensions. This work is important for so many reasons and I look forward to its implementation.

Active Aging Week and a Milestone for the Margaret Schweinhaut Senior Center

I am pleased at the number of people who participated in Active Aging Week across our County. It started Monday with classes packed with seniors ready for fun activities that encourage healthy habits. We had outstanding participation and I want to thank Montgomery Parks, Montgomery Recreation and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission for putting together so many activities for seniors to enjoy. They did it while adjusting many schedules because of all the rain we had this week.

On Saturday, I will be on hand to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Margaret Schweinhaut Senior Center in Silver Spring. The center is named after Maryland State Senator Margaret C. Schweinhaut, who advocated for older adults to have a place to gather and enjoy activities. The center is now regularly used for art programs, dancing, entertainment, fitness classes and more. I hope you are able utilize some of these programs and join us on Saturday for a day-long celebration starting at 9 a.m.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Earlier this week, I stood with County Councilmembers and public safety leaders in recognizing that the alarming number of domestic violence cases across Montgomery County continues to be a concern. On average, one in four women and one in seven men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. We must reduce these numbers and that is why we are always creating ways to help victims and encourage prevention.

This month, our libraries and recreation centers are showcasing 65 “Walking In Their Shoes” displays. These displays showcase victims’ accounts about the impact domestic violence has had on their lives. I applaud these survivors who are willing to share their pain to help educate others.

Other campaigns, like “Choose Respect,” target teenagers. A recent teen forum in Wheaton was attended by nearly 1,000 participants. They learned about the importance of demanding respect from their partner in a relationship.

There also are many programs and free resources available through the Family Justice Center in Rockville. The center can provide domestic violence victims with the resources and support to leave an abusive relationship. The center also can put victims in touch with lawyers and professionals who can help file protective orders. It is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome.

Crisis services for victims of domestic violence are available 24/7 through our Crisis Center. The Crisis Center phone number is 240-777-4000. I encourage you to share that number on social media. We need to make sure every family and resident knows about this resource.

These are the types of efforts that are going to make a difference, but we need the vigilance of all of residents to look out after themselves and loved ones. We must stop the silence on domestic violence.

Recognizing Customer Service Appreciation Week

This week we are honoring our many Montgomery County employees who provide customer service to our residents, businesses and visitors during National Customer Service Week. We appreciate the hard work done by our employees on behalf of the County.

We work on improving our customer service efforts and experiences because it is frustrating when someone feels like their government does not care or value them. The Montgomery County Innovation Team has been working with our employees to iron out inefficiencies and reduce the red tape that can slow down responses to your requests.

I hope you have had a chance to check out some of the social media posts our departments have made over the past week to honor our many employees.

From our 311 call takers to our permitting and procurement specialists to our libraries, recreation department and Alcohol Beverage Services staffs, our employees and their managers are committed to treating everyone with respect. We hope our residents take the opportunity to thank a County employee who has helped them during Customer Service Week.

County Continues to Focus on Business Opportunities

I had the opportunity to talk with several business leaders at the Maryland Life Science Bio Innovation Conference this week. We are proud they hosted the conference here in Montgomery County, where we have more than three million square feet of lab space in development. Our region recently was ranked second in the nation by CRBE for its pool of tech talent and the I-270 Corridor has been named by Time Magazine as “DNA Alley.” We hope these conversations lead to new partnerships and development.

In more good news, this week an important announcement was made between Hughes Network System and Montgomery College. Hughes is headquartered in Germantown and focused on helping the Federal government and businesses develop strong digital networks. They have also been honored nationally for providing Internet to rural areas through satellites.

On Monday, Hughes and Montgomery College leaders broke ground on a new high-tech building for the production of satellite broadband and networking equipment. The facility will be a third location for Hughes and also will serve as a hub for Montgomery College students looking for a career in the high-tech manufacturing. This project would not be at the early stages of completion without the work of Minkoff Development and South Duvall, who signed the lease with Hughes to build the 140,000-square-foot facility.

This will be a wonderful addition to the Pinkney Innovation Complex for Science and Technology at Montgomery College. I look forward to opening the new facility and seeing Hughes continue its more than 50 years of success here in Montgomery County.

COVID-19 Cases Continue to Fall, Bivalent Boosters Encouraged

New COVID-19 numbers show our County’s case rate sits right around 80 cases per 100,000 residents. This is only slightly higher than where we were at this time last year. It puts our community level status is in the “low” category.

This is good news, but we must remember how quickly it turned dangerous when the Omicron variant arrived and the impacts that surge had on our hospital capacity. I fear that with fewer cases and less of a nationwide focus on COVID, we are in danger of forgetting how dangerous this disease still is.

Montgomery County continues to provide free rapid COVID test kits at libraries and other locations around the County. All you have to do is stop by and pick them up. These tests are important because they allow anyone to quickly identify if they are positive so they can isolate. It is one of the most important steps you can take, along with staying up to date on your vaccines and boosters.

I am glad to see that we have seen an uptick in our booster rates over the past month as many of our residents have gotten the new bivalent booster. We are now seeing the most boosters administered per week since last January.

The bivalent booster was developed specifically for the Omicron variant of the virus. I cannot emphasize enough the added protection it can provide. This is not just “another booster” round. This shot is as important to get as the initial doses—and especially older and immune-compromised residents.

I am pleased that this County is 90 percent fully vaccinated and 60 percent of our residents are boosted. In the nation, there are no counties of our size and diversity that have reached this level of vaccination. However, I would like to see these numbers continue to rise as we move into the fall. It is important that we increase our vaccination rates because we will be doing more indoor activities. Those will increase the possibility of exposure and outbreaks.

Supply for the new booster is now more plentiful and this vaccine can be found easily at local pharmacies, as well as at clinics operated by our health department. Remember: if you do not have health insurance, County-run vaccine sites do not charge for the vaccine. It is recommended to have appointments to be sure we have the type of vaccine for which you are looking.

DACA Court Ruling Puts Dreamers in Tough Position

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week ruled against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—which is better known as DACA.

There are approximately 10,000 residents in Maryland, including thousands in Montgomery County, who arrived in this nation as children who could be impacted. For the vast majority of these individuals, often-called “dreamers,” know of no country but this one. Five years ago, our nation finally provided them clarity and certainty of their immigration status through DACA. Now, their legal status once again could be in jeopardy. This is unfair to them, bad for our nation and proves once again that conservatives in this country continue to be void of compassion or common sense.

Let’s be clear: This ruling won’t change anything immediately. DACA recipients will keep their work authorization status and protections from deportation until this court case is settled. At this point, the program is once again considered “at risk” and that is why many advocates are stressing that it’s time to fight for DACA again.

The program has enabled hundreds of thousands of young people to pursue college careers and raise families. The dreamers need and deserve certainty and permanent relief that will end these constant court battles. We will continue to support the work of advocates like CASA as we follow the legal developments around DACA. Every member of our Congressional delegation supports permanent protections—including a pathway to citizenship. We support their efforts to provide clarity for dreamers, as well as protections and reforms for all of our immigrant communities and new arrivals in the County.

Kojo Will Be in the Community on Tuesday, Oct. 11

WAMU is hosting “Kojo In Our Community: Unpacking Montgomery County’s Housing Debate” starting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at the Silver Spring Civic Building (the doors open at 6:30 p.m.). I will be joining Casey Anderson, chair of the Montgomery County Planning Board and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, and County Councilmember Will Jawando on a panel hosted by Kojo Nnamdi. We will be addressing affordable housing, as well as the Thrive 2050 plan.

Audience members will have the opportunity to ask questions or share comments. The forum will be recorded and an edited version of the conversation will be broadcast aired at 1 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 14, on WAMU 88.5.

I appreciate WAMU for organizing this important discussion and encourage you to attend or tune in.

Victims’ Rights Foundation to Mark 20th Anniversary of Sniper Shootings

Twenty years ago this month, Montgomery County was the starting point for a horrifying string of shootings by two men who became known as the “D.C. Snipers.” Ten people were killed and seven of these homicides were in Montgomery County. One of those murdered was a Ride On bus operator. The entire DMV was gripped by fear—a feeling that many of us can still remember.

During and after those tragic weeks, the Victims' Rights Foundation stepped in to help those who had been shot and their families. Around $500,000 dollars was donated from around the globe to help the families.

The Victims' Rights Foundation lent a voice to those heartbroken families, and it led prayer vigils during those three weeks of terror. Volunteers from the group spent time in court for two separate trials offering support and updating family members who could not attend the criminal proceedings. Twenty years later, our sympathies remain with the family and friends of the victims. Their loss and pain will never totally heal.

The Victims' Rights Foundation, which is headquartered in Germantown, will host a luncheon later this month to honor its 26th year of service and pay tribute to the sniper victims and their families. I want to thank the Victim’s Rights Foundation and its founder, Greg Wims, for their tireless dedication to our County and those in need of help after unthinkable tragedies.

Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service Assisting Hurricane Victims

The specially trained search team members of Montgomery County’s Fire and Rescue Service, who serve with Maryland Task Force 1, have been assisting in the recovery efforts following the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in Florida. This follows their deployment to Puerto Rico a few weeks earlier following Hurricane Fiona. This is very stressful, tiring and difficult work and we are grateful for their talents and trainings to help out fellow Americans in distress.

Please keep the rescuers and their families in your thoughts for a safe return from this dangerous assignment. Our sympathies are with the residents, communities and families of those who perished in these deadly weather events.

As always, my appreciation for all of you,

Marc Elrich
County Executive