We are living through a time of great economic anxiety—high inflation, the threat of a recession and a forthcoming showdown over the debt ceiling has made everyone nervous from Wall Street to Main Street. Montgomery County is not immune to these concerns, and we are aggressively pursuing a multi-pronged approach to attract companies, create job opportunities, invest in our education system, and provide supports and services for those facing economic hardships.
This week, we have some of good news to share in regard to these efforts. One of the key indicators of the health of our economy is our unemployment rate. According to the latest unemployment figures from March, Montgomery County’s unemployment rate has fallen to 2.0 percent.
As you can see from the graphic above, it has been more than 20 years since our unemployment has been this low—which is well below the State and national averages. The last time our unemployment rate was this low was in December 1999. This is an incredible achievement, especially since our unemployment rate peaked at 8.7 percent at the beginning of the pandemic.
This rebound of our economy did not happen by happenstance. Our support efforts to assist those who were put out of work, as well as our intentional efforts to grow our economy, has really paid off. The state of our economy is strong and we are also seeing significant progress on key projects that will only make it stronger.
In the last week we have seen important economic development and affordable housing updates in Silver Spring and Burtonsville. This week, I spent time at the Select USA Summit, which is focused on creating new international and domestic partnerships for jurisdictions like Montgomery County. This summit comes at an opportune time on the heels of our successful economic trade mission to Taiwan.
Time and time again, I am hearing from companies who are attracted to our diversity, education infrastructure and skilled workforce, as well as our proximity to federal institutions, related businesses and industry leaders. There are few places anywhere in this nation and world that can compete with what we offer in Montgomery County. It is our job to make sure they know that we are open for their business. I look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead for us and remain committed to making sure that our economy is profiting for all, not just the wealthy.
Furthermore, if you, or anyone you know are looking for work, I encourage you to consider looking at job opportunities within our government or utilizing the workforce training and resources that are provided through Montgomery College, the Universities at Shady Grove or from the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation.
Just this week, there was outstanding turnout for a job fair held at the Silver Spring Civic Building. We need to fill hundreds of current vacancies in the County across a variety of departments and the job fair drew 700 visitors. For more information about open jobs in County Government, visit work4mcg.com.
If you are a business owner and are looking to expand or even bid for government contracts, both our Office of Procurement and MCEDC provide numerous opportunities to help you succeed. On Tuesday, May 9, from 9 a.m. to noon, the Office of Procurement will be hosting a “Meet the Primes” event with more than 50 prime contractors, government agencies and local resources at this expo-style event. To register, click here to attend.
‘The Leggett’ Senior Affordable Housing Complex is Dedicated
This was an exciting week in the field of affordable housing, we cut the ribbon on a new affordable housing project for seniors that is named in honor of former County Executive Ike Leggett.
“The Leggett” will be home to 267 units for seniors on the west side of Downtown Silver Spring and includes a Holy Cross Hospital-affiliated wellness center and urgent care facility. This facility will be located next to a soon to be opened County recreation and aquatics center.
This is the second of a three-part plan to revitalize Elizabeth Square. It is an innovative housing project that offers affordable housing options for seniors in a way that prioritizes their well-being and recognizes the importance of community engagement with its proximity to County amenities.
The building is an appropriate way to honor former County Executive Ike Leggett, who fought tirelessly on behalf of Montgomery County’s older adults to create affordable housing opportunities for those on fixed incomes. Under his leadership as County Executive from 2006 to 2018, Montgomery County increased funding for affordable housing and consistently expanded investment to improve the quality of life for senior adults.
I want to thank the Housing Opportunities Commission for spearheading this project that will mean so much to hundreds of Montgomery County families.
Celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month
May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. We are proud to be one of the most racially diverse jurisdictions in our nation, and that diversity is rooted in the many Asian American and Pacific Islander communities that enrich our quality of life throughout every neighborhood in Montgomery County.
In May, we will celebrate the contributions our AAPI neighbors have made to the past and present and how we look forward to their future involvement in Montgomery County. I encourage all residents to join us in honoring our AAPI communities this month, and throughout the year.
On Monday, the County released The Health Care Providers’ Handbook on Hindu Patients to coincide with the start of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. This is the first handbook of its kind in the United States providing detailed information specifically for Hindu and Jain patients.
The guide aims to inform health care providers of religious beliefs and traditions practiced by Hindus, as well as dietary needs of Jain patients. It covers a broad range of topics including prayer, maternity services, diet, traditional medicines and remedies, end of life issues, care for the elderly, as well County and State resources.
The book is a partnership between our Asian Pacific American Advisory Group and Maryland's Commission on South Asian American Affairs. I want to thank Ishani Chowdhury, co-chair of the committee group, and the County's Asian community liaison, Yi Shen, for their work on this project. The Montgomery County Office of Community Partnerships will now focus on outreach to hospitals, nursing homes, private ambulatory services, community organizations and health fairs.
We hope to publicize this community resource through the media and word of mouth. Please share this link to the handbook with anyone that you think could use it.
Promoting Tourism and Building Safety Throughout May
This week also marks the start of Discover MoCo Month, promoted by Visit Montgomery. Travel and tourism are an important part of Montgomery County’s economy. We are a hospitality hub with Marriott International, Choice Hotels, and other hospitality companies that service the world. Nearly 20,000 visitor-supported jobs represent 4.4 percent of Montgomery County’s workforce. We have always been a destination for leisure and business travel prior to the pandemic. Montgomery County is the most visited County in Maryland, welcoming more than 6.8 million visitors, generating more than $1.4 billion dollars in spending in our local economy with more than $86 million taxes coming from tourism activities.
Visitors and residents are encouraged to download and use the Visit MoCo app and use the Adventure Planner to participate in a promotion that will result in up to $2,000 in prizes.
May is also Building Safety Month, an international initiative to prepare everyone for challenges faced locally and abroad.
Local media outlets have shared stories about Building Safety Month and our free residential deck inspections for the first 300 families that sign up. The best way to do that is to call 311 to see if you qualify or by visiting the DPS website. During this first week of the campaign, DPS leaders want to remind you that building safety starts at home.
Fiscal Year 2024 Operating Budget Considerations
I know that the County Council is currently reviewing my recommended budget and I wanted to mention something that is tremendously important: Other Post-Employment Benefits, or OPEB. OPEB is a trust fund that we created about 15 years ago to set aside money to help pay for retirees’ health costs.
We have been extremely prudent in allocating money to this fund, and it is now a very healthy size—about $750 million. About one-third of that money ($250 million) is from investments. The fund will continue to grow well with investments.
Our OPEB fund is currently in such good shape that our financial advisors tell us that we can withdraw millions to help pay for retiree health care costs for County employees.
To date, we have never used any of the money in OPEB to pay for the County’s retirees health care costs. Instead, all the County’s share comes from the general fund.
I am urging the Council to follow the guidance of the financial advisors and use some of the ever-growing trust fund for its intended purpose—to help cover retiree health care costs.
We already do this for the health care costs of school retirees, and we need to begin doing it for County retirees. It is fiscally prudent and eases the burden on taxpayers.
Community Health Update
A big change is coming next week, and one is already upon us. First, let’s talk about the end of expanded eligibility for Medicaid. During the pandemic, many more people were able to qualify for Medicaid, but beginning last month, current recipients are being notified that they will need to go through a redetermination process, and they may no longer qualify as eligibility requirements return to pre-pandemic guidelines.
The State has been notifying current enrollees of the change, but we want to emphasize this information so that Montgomery County residents know about this significant change. The redeterminations will not all happen at once, but they will happen. If you are a Medicaid recipient, be sure that your contact information is up to date. Confirm your information at www.MarylandHealthConnection.gov/Checkin. If you received a renewal letter, be sure to respond or you may risk losing your coverage.
Meanwhile, the U.S. public health emergency declaration issued to deal with COVID-19 will end on May 11.
Residents should know that the County will continue to be a reliable source for COVID-19 vaccinations and testing. Our testing sites will discontinue PCR testing, but will have rapid tests available and can help residents test themselves on the spot. There are 19 library locations that also will continue to offer residents free rapid test kits and masks.
Currently in Montgomery County, our COVID-19 transmission rate and community threat remain “low.”
I hope our community remains vigilant and up to date with the latest recommendations. It is important for me to stay up to date as well. That is why during this week’s briefing with the media, I rolled up my sleeve and took my second bivalent booster shot. I am now up to five and I have not dealt with any side effects.
The latest guidelines for those who are not vaccinated only call for one bivalent booster shot and not a two-dose vaccine regimen. For those that are immunocompromised or over 65, it may be time for a second booster shot. If you need your original bivalent booster or a second shot, go to GoVaxMoco.com for more information.
Senator Ben Cardin Announces He Will Retire
Finally, it was bittersweet news to learn that Senator Ben Cardin has decided to retire. Senator Cardin (“my friend Ben”) paid close attention to Montgomery County and was sincerely interested in our communities. In addition to his being a great legislator, Senator Cardin was always down-to-earth and willing to talk with you no matter who you were. He cared deeply about our state and it showed.
I thank him for his many years of dedicated service in the Federal government and the Maryland State legislature and all he has accomplished to make Maryland and Montgomery County a better place. We will miss him in the Senate and wish him the best in his well-deserved retirement.
As always, my appreciation for all of you,