Author and social activist bell hooks is quoted as saying, “Feminism is for everybody.” I could not agree more, but despite years of progress, gender inequities still persist in our society. Part of our efforts to promote equality must include learning and understanding our history.
March is Women’s History Month, a national celebration that highlights the contributions of women in our County and across the nation. Women have overcome many challenges throughout history including the right to vote, to make their own health care decisions and earn fair wages.
This County has had so many great women who have helped to shape who we are and where we are going, including our current County Council where women are the majority for the first time in County history.
This is a chance for us to reflect on our past, and also to look to our future. Women will continue to be leaders in this County and we need to nurture the next generation of leaders.
I encourage you to check Montgomery County’s Commission for Women website for information about its annual “Girl Power” contest for anyone ages 5 or older. You can submit short stories, poems, drawings or other entries around this year’s theme, “What advice would you give the County Council to make sure our community is a place where women and girls can feel safe and encouraged?” Categories will be split into elementary, middle school, high school and adult submissions.
From Clara Barton to Rachel Carson to Emily Edmondson to Katie Ledecky, Montgomery County has been, and continues to be, home to women who are trailblazers, leaders and history-makers whose impacts have been felt around the world.
Fentanyl Issues In and Out of School
Last week, I attended the second Family Forum on Fentanyl held this year by Montgomery County Public Schools and Montgomery Goes Purple. There are still a lot of questions from the community about what we are doing as a government to help alleviate this problem.
This is not just a school issue. In 2022, 11 people under age 21 died from overdoses. A majority of them were between 18 and 21. Statistics for 2023 are not available yet because they have to be finalized by the State’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, but in January, Police Chief Marcus Jones confirmed the fatal overdose of a Kennedy High School student. She was discovered by her family on a Saturday morning. We grieve for her family and all the other families struggling with drug use.
There is prevention work being done with an emphasis on community awareness of the problem and resources available. The County and its partners can help identify treatment options for kids who are already using or are at high risk of using drugs. Also, Narcan is being made more widely available to prevent overdoses from becoming deadly.
Montgomery County Public Schools has introduced new bathroom policies and will more routinely and intently monitor those areas for drug use throughout the school day.
I want to thank MCPS School Superintendent Dr. Monifa McKnight and her team for their response and engagement with concerned parents. I also want to thank MCPS for its cooperation and partnership with the County Police Department and the County’s Department of Health and Human Services as we work holistically at engaging students and their families to be safe and healthy in our schools.
For more information about our prevention and support efforts, visit this website or knowtherisksmc.org.
Maryland Health Benefit Exchange Testimony
Whether it is substance misuse, mental health or simple accidents, going through life without medical insurance coverage is a risk taken by too many young adults. For some, that risk could lead to years of debt and financial difficulties. It is critical that we continue efforts to provide affordable health coverage for the uninsured.
This week, I submitted testimony on behalf of a State bill that would make permanent some major health care insurance changes that are making a difference in Montgomery County and Maryland.
Since 2021, the State has been helping young adults afford health insurance through the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. The investment has been up to $20 million dollars yearly. Last year, around 45,000 Marylanders took advantage of the subsidies. Even more people—young and old—could be in need of health insurance once Medicaid coverage is more scrutinized due to the return of pre-pandemic safeguards.
These monies are meant to help people between 18-34 purchase health coverage. Getting more healthy, young people into the medical insurance system is important to help foster healthier communities. It also helps lower premiums for everyone.
Once this program was enacted, enrollment among young increased 500 percent, providing 17,000 more Marylanders with health insurance. This is incredible progress and we want to continue to see these numbers increase. It is time to remove the sunset on this important health care program that helps so many young adults and families.
Because its tax season, I want to remind you that it is easy to enroll for health insurance in Maryland. All you have to do is look for the box to check on your taxes and make sure it is marked. This is an easy way to express interest in health care coverage so you do not have to search for ways to sign up.
Several states are following Maryland’s lead. In Congress, Sen. Chris Van Hollen is introducing national legislation to allow for health insurance enrollment when Americans file Federal tax returns.
Health care is a human right and we must do all we can to increase access to insurance coverage to break down barriers and reduce inequitable health disparities in Montgomery County.
Governor Moore’s Fair Wage Act of 2023
In more news from Annapolis, this week I testified on behalf of Governor Moore’s Fair Wage Act of 2023. This bill would accelerate an increase in the State minimum wage rate to $15 per hour on Oct. 1, 2023. It also indexes future minimum wage rates to inflation (up to five percent) beginning on July 1, 2025.
Increasing the minimum wage is an issue that I have led and worked on for years. I was proud to sponsor two bills to raise the wage. Many workers in Montgomery County have been at this level since the summer of 2021, and starting this summer, the minimum wage for large companies in Montgomery County will increase to $16.70 per hour. Especially important: the wage is adjusted for inflation after it hits $15. If the Federal law had been indexed for inflation many years ago, we would not have had to act at the State or local level.
As I see it, the minimum wage is ultimately about working people being able to earn enough to put a roof over their heads, feed their families and not have to choose between food on the table and medical visits.
I want to thank Governor Moore for making this one of his earliest priorities and I thank him for the honor of inviting me to testify alongside of him to support this important legislation.
Firefighters, Others Honored by State Lawmakers
The Maryland General Assembly recognized members of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service, the County Police Department, Pepco and the County Revenue Authority for their brave work in difficult circumstances a few days after Thanksgiving last year.
The groups were honored by the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates for their response to last fall’s small plane crash into the high voltage tower near the Montgomery Airpark.
That operation took a tremendous amount of coordination and teamwork to successfully save the two people from the plane dangling 10 stories above the ground and quickly restore power to 120,000 customers who were in the dark for several hours.
I want to thank State Senator Nancy King and Delegate Kirill Reznik for making the time to honor our local crews.
Immediate Help Needed for Apartment Fire Victims
A second effort to help victims of the Arrive Silver Spring apartment complex fire in mid-February is now underway. Dozens of families have not been able to return home since Feb. 18 because of damage from the fire.
Montgomery County has partnered with Silver Spring Cares to help raise funds to address the immediate needs of our displaced neighbors. Many Arrive residents are currently being housed in hotels and unable to cook for themselves.
Funds will help these neighbors buy meals and manage their increased cost of living while they are displaced. Donations will be distributed in partnership with Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services. In just a few days, more than $7,500 dollars has been collected.
The County also has asked the Montgomery Housing Partnership to manage donations to help address long-term needs. More than $38,000 has been collected to help families through that effort.
If someone would rather help by donating a gift card to a local restaurant or grocery store instead of cash, they can reach out through silverspringcares.org.
Weekly COVID Update
There is once again good news on the COVID-19 front. There are fewer cases, and the virus is less of a burden on our hospitals. Our community level remains 'low.'
In the next few months, we will see less support from the Federal government for things like test kits, vaccines and boosters. The emergency aspect of the pandemic is nearing an end, but COVID is still here and getting people sick.
Let me be clear, COVID IS NOT OVER. And we cannot be lulled into thinking so.
We will continue to provide testing and vaccination services at no cost through the end of the fiscal year (June 30). Moderna pledged last week to continue to make its vaccines free of charge and Pfizer said it will use its patient assistance program to provide free shots to the uninsured.
This is a good opportunity to use our community partners and encourage more people to protect themselves from another wave of COVID-19. Everyone needs to be reminded that this is still a potentially deadly virus. If you are not vaccinated or updated on your booster shots, you are more at risk at severe sickness or hospitalization.
We have been utilizing these vaccines for more than two years. The data proves that they are effective. If we want to continue to see the low rates, we need to continue vaccinating, testing and monitoring this virus.
As we approach the third anniversary of the start of the health crisis, we must not forget that this virus has killed more than 16,000 Marylanders, including more than 2,300 in this County. We cannot let our guard down now.
First Grassroots Environmental Film Festival
The Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection and the Latino Health Initiative last week hosted the County’s first “Climate Stories Film Festival: Our Grain of Sand” at the AFI Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring.
The festival featured several short films and panel discussions with the ambassadors and climate partners.
I hope that we can build on the lessons from these films—as well as our ambassadors’ leadership—to improve our environment and create community-based solutions to combat climate change.
We must work together to achieve sustainable results in confronting the climate crisis. In Montgomery County, we have created a road map to sustainability through our Climate Action Plan, but it will take all of us to reach our goals of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2027 and 100 percent by 2035.
To view these incredible films, follow this link.
Read Across America Week
As a former teacher, I recognize the importance of reading and its ability to build a foundation for learning. This week, we are celebrating “Read Across America Week” with several activities at our County libraries.
Reading is important. It has been proven to improve focus, memory, empathy and communication skills. It can reduce stress, improve mental health and help you live longer. Reading also allows you to learn new things to help succeed in work and relationships. Reading to your children is a great way to get them ready for school and prepare them for life ahead.
The County is partnering with the Jewish Council for the Aging Heyman Interages Center to provide some of those reading programs. The one-on-one program will pair JCA volunteers with children between kindergarten and third grade.
If you would like to participate, visit the Gaithersburg Library from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday or the Wheaton Library from 1-3 p.m. on Sunday.
I want to thank the work of teachers, librarians, family members and anyone who help make it easy for others to enjoy reading.
As always, my appreciation for all of you,