Tag Archives: COVID-19

Are Maryland Vaccine Deliveries Fair?

By Adam Pagnucco.

COVID vaccine distribution is a hot issue in Maryland. COVID case rates have spiked since October and death rates are at their highest levels since the spring. Elected officials’ inboxes are filling up with inquiries from residents and the press is paying attention. Lots of folks are looking to their local governments but the vaccines are delivered by the state. How is the state doing?

Vaccine distribution in the U.S. is a multi-tier process. Pfizer and Moderna manufacture the vaccines. The federal government determines their allocations to states. (You can see open data on distribution of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by state.) State governments then distribute the vaccines they receive to their local jurisdictions.

Maryland has established a three-phase hierarchy for determining the order in which groups receive vaccines. The state has progressed through Phase 1A (health care workers, residents and staff of nursing homes and first responders, public safety, and corrections staff) and is now in Phase 1B (assisted living, independent living, behavioral health and developmentally disabled group homes, and other congregate facilities; adults age 75 and older; and education and continuity of government). Further phases will expand to larger populations.

The state is currently distributing vaccines primarily to three different kinds of entities. Hospitals, who are expected to vaccinate their own staff members and associates, received 320,200 vaccines as of 1/18/21. Pharmacies, including CVS and Walgreens, are responsible for vaccinating nursing homes and received 73,125 vaccines as of 1/18/21. Local health departments are responsible for vaccinating other people in Phases 1A and 1B, especially health workers and first responders, and received 137,425 vaccines as of 1/18/21. Other agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the D.C. Department of Health and a few state agencies, received another 20,950 vaccines.

And so the counties, hospitals and pharmacies don’t control how many vaccines they get. They do control the rates at which they administer vaccines to residents. As of 1/18/21, vaccine administration percentages were 61% for local health departments, 40% for hospitals, 39% for pharmacies and 69% for other agencies.

The table below shows administration rates by county health department. Queen Anne’s, St. Mary’s and Montgomery counties have all administered more than 90% of the vaccines they received from the state as of 1/18/21, the best in Maryland. Baltimore City and Charles, Prince George’s, Somerset and Washington counties have administered less than 30% of the vaccines they received as of 1/18/21.

Administration rate is one factor in vaccinating a population. The other factor is deliveries relative to population. It’s hard to know the location of residents being vaccinated by hospitals and pharmacies. However, local health departments are presumably vaccinating residents who live (or at least work) mostly within their jurisdictional boundaries. The table below compares vaccination deliveries to local health departments with U.S. Census estimates of their populations in 2015-2019.

There are large discrepancies in the state’s delivery of vaccines to local health departments on a per capita basis. Relative to their populations, Kent, Somerset, Garrett, Talbot and Caroline counties – each having less than 40,000 residents – received the most vaccines, varying from 4.5 to 8.2 per hundred residents. Montgomery County (1.9 vaccines per hundred residents) and Prince George’s County (1.6 vaccines per hundred residents) are at the bottom. Baltimore County and Baltimore City are also below the state average delivery rate per capita.

A county with an excellent vaccine administration percentage but a low delivery rate from the state could wind up with a low vaccination percentage of its population. In fact, that’s what the table below shows for Montgomery County. Despite having one of the best administration percentages in the state, MoCo is below average on the percentage of its population receiving a first and second shot because of its low per capita delivery rate.

It’s still an early moment in the state’s vaccination program. There is time to improve. But there is also a role for elected officials who represent counties with low vaccine delivery rates and their constituents to press the state to do better.

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Two Negotiating Strategies, Two Outcomes

By Adam Pagnucco.

In justifying the county’s creation of a $4 million per pay period emergency pay liability, representatives of county government depict it as a good deal for taxpayers. They say that the county’s collective bargaining agreements set much higher levels of emergency pay than the amount the county is now paying, so $4 million a pay period is actually a bargain. Setting aside whether the county’s existing emergency pay provisions actually apply to a pandemic – there is some doubt about that – the county’s claim is called into question by the emergency compensation program of one of its sister agencies, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, commonly referred to as Park and Planning.

MCGEO is the largest county employee union of both Montgomery County Government and Park and Planning. It is led by the fearsome Gino Renne, who has a long and famous history of playing hardball with politicians. The union’s prior collective bargaining agreements with both the county and Park and Planning had preexisting emergency pay provisions which the county cited in providing COVID pay. Unlike MCGEO’s preexisting agreement with the county, its preexisting agreement with Park and Planning has an emergency pay provision explicitly referring to “epidemics.” Despite that fact, negotiations between MCGEO and the two agencies yielded outcomes that were worlds apart.

MCGEO’s agreement with the county

Signed on April 3, the agreement gives employees in “front facing onsite work” an extra $10 per hour and employees in “back office onsite work” an extra $3 per hour. Teleworking employees do not receive extra pay. The differential counts for the purpose of calculating overtime pay.

The agreement is indefinite. Here is its language on duration:

This Agreement may re-open on June 20, 2020. However, if the declared Maryland State of Emergency related to COVID-19 extends beyond that time, the terms of this Agreement shall continue, or after collectively bargaining with MCGEO, will be modified based upon the circumstances at the time. In the event that the declared Maryland State of Emergency related to COVID-19 is rescinded before June 20, 2020, the date of the Declaration’s rescission shall be considered the last day of this Agreement, notwithstanding the pay periods indicated above defining when the COVID-19 Differential will be paid.

The county could renegotiate the agreement if MCGEO agrees to do it. Otherwise, the agreement lasts as long as the state’s declared emergency does. As of this writing, the emergency continues and so does the agreement. County council staff has previously noted that it provides by far the most generous COVID pay of any jurisdiction in the region.

MCGEO’s agreements with Park and Planning

MCGEO has had two memorandums of understanding and six agreements on the COVID emergency with Park and Planning through late January. Their effective dates are:

MOU signed 3/15/20
Agreement 1: 5/4/20 – 6/30/20
MOU signed 7/2/20
Agreement 2: 7/10/20 – 8/8/30
Agreement 3: 8/5/20 – 8/29/20
Agreement 4: 9/8/20 – 10/3/20
Agreement 5: 10/5/20 – 11/28/20
Agreement 6: 11/25/20 – 1/30/21

Of the agreements, only the first (lasting through June 30) contained extra pay. That agreement gave an extra $2.75 per hour for “onsite work” and an extra $4.50 per hour for child care aides performing “front facing onsite work.” Unlike the county’s agreement, emergency pay was not included in the calculation of overtime pay. The later agreements provided varying levels of leave and paid time off and have other language on health and safety, teleworking and scheduling but they do not provide emergency pay. Let’s note that time away from work does more to protect employee health than requiring them to report on-site with a pay differential.

No one will ever accuse MCGEO President Gino Renne of being an ineffective negotiator. He has delivered outstanding value to his members for many years. The difference here is in the negotiating strategies taken by the two agencies. Park and Planning utilized a series of short, time-limited agreements to adjust its compensation to changing circumstances. The county signed one open-ended agreement that locked in extra pay negotiated during the height of COVID’s first wave. Gino signed the agreements with both agencies despite their vast differences.

That’s not all. The county’s agreements with the police and fire fighters both provide indefinite emergency pay of $10 per hour for onsite work, with the extra pay counting for calculations of overtime. Of Park and Planning’s five agreements with its police union through late November, only one – lasting through June 30 – provided emergency pay and that was for $4.50 an hour. Once again, Park and Planning got a different result with a different negotiating strategy.

The results of these differing agreements are two-fold. First, there is a huge gap in the costs faced by the agencies. The county has about 9 times the employees of Park and Planning. The county has paid $4 million per pay period since April, which translates to $78 million as of last week. Park and Planning paid a total of $400,917.

Second, there is a tremendous inequity between county employees (many of whom are receiving an extra $3 or $10 per hour) and Park and Planning employees (who are getting paid time off and leave but not extra pay since June 30). That inequity extends to employees of MCPS and Montgomery College, who are not getting anything resembling the county’s pay. Expect these employees to ask – with justification – why they aren’t getting the same extra money as county workers.

The question of how to pay for the county’s huge new liability – one that was avoided by Park and Planning – will be a big factor in writing the next operating budget. We shall find out the consequences of all this when it arrives on March 15.

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How Does MoCo’s Vaccination Rate Compare to the Rest of Maryland?

By Adam Pagnucco.

Last night, Montgomery County Government sent out a blast email claiming, “Montgomery County is has [sic] taken swift steps to administer the vaccines it has received—proceeding at one of the highest rates of vaccine administration in Maryland.” The same claim is repeated on the county’s website.

Is this true?

The county doesn’t elaborate on this claim in great detail but it has support from the slide below from its Department of Health and Human Services. The slide shows the percentage of received vaccines that has been administered by each county in the state. As of January 13, MoCo administered 63% of the vaccines it has received, trailing only Caroline County (68%) and far above the state average (36%).

However, the county trails badly on another key measure: the percentage of population vaccinated. Another slide from the same presentation shows that just 2.2% of MoCo’s population has been vaccinated with at least one dose, a rate that trails 20 of the state’s 24 jurisdictions.

To be fair, MoCo doesn’t have full control of its population vaccination rate because the state allocates vaccines by county. At this point, Baltimore County has received more vaccines than MoCo even though its population is smaller.

County Executive Marc Elrich has posted a good explanation of the complications in distributing vaccines, especially the role played by the need to vaccinate people twice. It’s very informative for folks who would like to understand how the process works and what bottlenecks lie within.

In any event, by one measure, the county is exceeding the state’s vaccination rate and by another, it is falling short. The story is a complex one and, at this point, not reducible to emailed success stories.

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MoCo Seeks Feedback on COVID Vaccine

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County Government is seeking resident feedback on how and whether they would like to receive COVID vaccines through an online survey. The county’s press release is reprinted below.

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Montgomery County Seeks Feedback on Residents’ Demand for Receiving COVID-19 Vaccine

For Immediate Release: Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021

Montgomery County today launched an online survey to hear from residents and get an informed understanding of how residents feel about taking the COVID-19 vaccine. The survey is not scientific but will help to identify any possible concerns residents may have about the vaccine. With a goal of vaccinating 75 to 80 percent of the community, County employees will use the feedback to address questions and to better reach communities hit hardest by COVID-19 and who have historically been apprehensive about trusting vaccines or medical research. The County plans to incorporate the feedback from the survey into its robust outreach plan and communications efforts to educate the public on the importance of taking the vaccine.

The survey is open from Jan. 14 through Feb. 4, 2021 and is on the County’s COVID-19 vaccine website. The survey is anonymous and is available in the top seven spoken languages in the county. It is also available on the County’s Facebook page and Twitter feed. With 12 multiple choice questions, the survey takes approximately five minutes to complete. In addition to the survey being available online, the survey will also be offered to residents at several of the County’s COVID-19 testing sites.

For the latest COVID-19 updates, visit the County’s COVID-19 website and follow Montgomery County on Facebook @MontgomeryCountyInfo and Twitter @MontgomeryCoMD. Residents can also sign up to receive text or email updates about COVID-19 vaccinations.

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The Top Twenty Seventh State Posts of 2020, Part Two

By Adam Pagnucco.

Yesterday, we listed posts 11 through 20 in terms of page views for the year 2020. Here are the top ten.

  1. Volcano in Rockville

In the wake of former Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Andrew Kleine’s admitted ethics violations, County Executive Marc Elrich wanted him to stay in his job. But the county council was outraged by the scandal and exploded in public fury. The council’s anger wound up forcing Kleine out and opened the door to the ascension of the new CAO, former county budget director and state senator Rich Madaleno.

  1. Repeal the Linda Lamone for Life Law

The problems with the 2020 primary election prompted this historical post summarizing why the state has a law protecting its elections administrator, Linda Lamone, from accountability. Comptroller Peter Franchot and Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford called for Lamone’s resignation but she survived for the thousandth time. Thankfully, the general election was a smoother affair than the primary.

  1. Sitting Judges Get Temporary Restraining Order Against Pierre
  2. Progressive-Backed Judge Candidate Courted, Donated to Republicans
  3. Judge Candidate on Floyd Cops: “Lock Em Up”

It’s fitting that these three posts finished back-to-back-to-back because they all concern the nastiest judicial election in recent MoCo history: the challenge by attorney Marylin Pierre to four sitting judges. This one had a LOT going on: partisanship, charges of racism, charges of lying and even a temporary restraining order. The whole thing cast a foul odor over the ballot box and led me to conclude that judicial elections should mostly be abolished.

  1. Harris Blasts MCEA Over School Reopening

School board elections are mostly sleepy affairs in which candidates agree at least 90% of the time and the only difference between them is which ones are endorsed by the Apple Ballot and the Post. Not this year! MCPS’s boundary study dominated the primary and school reopening took the spotlight in the general, with Lynne Harris (the Post’s candidate) blasting the teachers union for allegedly resisting reopening. Harris told Blair High School’s Silver Chips newspaper that the teachers “were obstructionist, inflammatory, and just said ‘no’ to everything.” That provoked a furious response and the teachers are unlikely to forget it.

  1. What’s More Important? The Liquor Monopoly or a Thousand Bartenders?

Early in the COVID crisis, Governor Larry Hogan gave counties discretion to allow restaurants to offer takeout and delivery of mixed drinks. Many other states and the City of Baltimore allowed it, but MoCo’s liquor monopoly did not. The issue prompted a mass revolt by restaurants and consumers and the county ultimately allowed it.

  1. IG Investigates “Overtime Scam” in the Fire Department

County Inspector General Megan Davey Limarzi blew the lid off county government with her landmark report on an overtime scam in the fire department. The scandal involved more than $900,000 of overtime which exceeded limits set by the fire chief and was scheduled outside of the system usually used by county public safety agencies. Readers were all over this but I have not heard of anyone being disciplined for it. As of this writing, this is the sixth most-read post in the history of Seventh State measured by page views.

  1. Restaurant: My Staff Will Not Wear Face Masks

Last July, The Grille at Flower Hill in Gaithersburg posted this on Facebook: “Let me be very clear…my staff will not wear face masks while working here at the Grille. If that bothers you then please dine elsewhere and please try to find something more important to occupy your time such as volunteer at a nursing home or soup kitchen. Whoever you are that filed the complaint, you need to take a good look in the mirror and try to find some real meaning in your life.” The post provoked a huge firestorm from irate customers resulting in the permanent closure of the restaurant four days later. As of this writing, this is the fifth most-read post in the history of Seventh State measured by page views.

  1. MoCo Democrats Issue Statement on Ballot Questions

This post reprinted the Montgomery County Democratic Party’s statement on the four ballot questions. It was originally published on September 17 and initially attracted little site traffic. But it started to pop in early and mid-October and dominated page views in the latter part of the month. Most of the traffic was generated by Google searches. This provided valuable intel: thousands of people were seeking out what the Democratic Party had to say about a group of arcane and confusing ballot questions. And if they were coming to Seventh State, they were no doubt also visiting other sites with similar information like news outlets and the party’s own site. In the end, it seems likely that the party was the dominant force in driving voter reaction to the ballot questions as its positions carried the election by double digits. It was also a huge boon to us as this post ranks third in page views in the history of Seventh State.

On to 2021!

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The Top Twenty Seventh State Posts of 2020, Part One

By Adam Pagnucco.

The year 2020 was hugely eventful for the entire world and MoCo was no exception. In our county, 2020 saw a public health crisis, a resulting economic crash and huge challenges to our quality of life. In political terms, it also saw unusually contentious elections for school board and circuit court judge, four historic ballot questions and numerous fights inside county government. We wrote about it all on Seventh State. Here are the top twenty posts measured by page views from the people who count the most – YOU, our readers.

  1. Miscreants Run Wild at Elrich Press Conference

This was a poorly organized public event gone wrong, culminating with an unmasked protestor getting within spitting distance of the county executive. For those who question the need for the executive to have a security detail, this is Exhibit A for why it can be necessary.

  1. Elrich Vetoes WMATA Property Tax Bill

County Executive Marc Elrich’s first veto, this one targeting a council-passed bill giving Metro station developers 15-year property tax breaks, set off a fight on corporate welfare that has not ended by a long shot. That will prove especially true if a proposal by the planning staff to grant tax abatements to other properties near Metro stations advances.

  1. The Squeaky Wheel and Inequities Hiding in Plain Sight

MoCo PTA Vice-President Laura Stewart wrote this guest blog on inequities in MCPS’s capital budget. It’s a must-read for everyone who cares about school construction.

  1. Will MCPS Reopen?

In early November, MCPS told the public that it was planning a phased-in reopening of schools for some in-person instruction. But the winter surge of COVID quickly overtook that plan and cast the timing of reopening in doubt. The issue is still unsettled.

  1. MCEA: MCPS Reopening Plan “Wholly Inadequate” to Protect Students and Staff

Back in the summer, MCPS’s original reopening plan was drenched in controversy, ultimately resulting in a pitched battle with the county teachers’ union (MCEA). MCPS wound up going with virtual learning for the fall, like most other large school systems in the region, but the mechanics and safety of reopening are still subjects of debate.

  1. What Happened to White Flint?

Jobs, jobs, JOBS. According to White Flint developers, MoCo’s slow rate of job growth was one reason that they could not get financing to proceed on the county’s preeminent development plan. The chart below says it all. And when the COVID pandemic finally ends, county leaders must dedicate themselves to creating jobs, Jobs, JOBS or MoCo’s stagnation will continue.

  1. Baltimore City’s Election Has a Problem

Back in June, incumbent Baltimore City Council Member Zeke Cohen, who had a big lead in money and endorsements over his challenger, appeared on election night to be getting just 2% of the vote. That was the first sign of a primary gone wrong, which led to many misgivings about the state’s processes with mail ballots and the performance of its long-time election administrator Linda Lamone.

  1. Why Montgomery County Ballot Questions B and D Are Truly Bad Ideas You Should Vote Against

2020 was a year of surprises, and one of the bigger surprises was the emergence from political retirement of former County Executive Ike Leggett. Question B (Robin Ficker’s latest anti-tax charter amendment) and Question D (nine council districts) disturbed Leggett enough that he started a ballot issue committee to defeat them. This post was Leggett’s guest column on why they were bad ideas and it got a big reaction from our readers.

  1. Teachers Respond to Lynne Harris

After school board candidate Lynne Harris blamed MCEA for allegedly resisting school reopening (a post that also appears on our top 20 list), a group of rank-and-file teachers pushed back in this guest post. It achieved wide readership that was probably concentrated among teachers as the general election approached.

  1. Free-For-All

In non-COVID news, 2020 was the year that the county’s police department (along with departments around the country) became a political football. This post describes how the executive, the county council and Annapolis all jumped into the issue of policing with little coordination. Lost in the debate was the central fact that crime in MoCo is at its lowest level in decades. Policing will continue to be a hot topic in 2021.

Tomorrow we will list the top ten Seventh State posts for the year!

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Top Seventh State Stories, December 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in December ranked by page views.

1. What Happened to White Flint?
2. The Day of Reckoning is Near
3. Jawando Calls for a Tax Hike
4. Come on Now
5. Who’s the Boss?
6. MCEA to School Board: Reopening Should be Safe
7. Trump vs Hogan: Votes by MoCo Town
8. Council Overrides Veto, Attacks Elrich, Cuts Revenue for School Buildings
9 (tie). Minority Members of the U.S. House
9 (tie). Corporate MoCo Council Adopts Supply-Side Economics

The top three stories fit together and have meaning for the new year and beyond. The Day of Reckoning is Near summarizes the county’s dire fiscal picture as it heads into a challenging FY22 budget discussion in the spring. Jawando Calls for a Tax Hike kicks off an inevitable dialogue about taxes, one which will only get hotter before the executive makes his budget recommendation on March 15. And What Happened to White Flint? – December’s runaway winner – lays out the story of how the county’s premier development plan has been held back by our slow rate of job growth. Budget headaches, taxes and economic problems are about to collide.

Welcome to 2021, folks!

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MoCo Gets the Vaccine

By Adam Pagnucco.

Montgomery County Government has announced that it has received its first shipment of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. The first doses are earmarked for county health staff engaged in pandemic response with more shipments to come. The county’s press release is reprinted below.

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First Round of COVID-19 Vaccine Arrives in Montgomery County
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020

The first round of COVID-19 vaccine doses, manufactured by Moderna, arrived in Montgomery County this morning at the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). This initial shipment will be earmarked for County health staff engaged in managing the pandemic response.

The first group to receive the vaccine in Montgomery County is the core team of public health clinicians who will become responsible for vaccinating residents across the County once additional vaccine arrives.

The shipment that arrived today from the Maryland Department of Health is only a small fraction of the entire supply expected to ultimately arrive in Montgomery County and across the United States. This first, small round of vaccine is in addition to the supply that the six hospitals across Montgomery County have or will receive directly from the Maryland Department of Health (MDH). Once MDH receives vaccine from the federal government, DHHS will learn more details about how much vaccine the County will receive and when.

County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles will be among the first recipients this afternoon as the lead on the active response to the pandemic.

“​I think the vaccines are safe, and are a new tool to help alleviate the burden of COVID-19 in our communities, particularly in those communities hit disproportionately,” said Dr. Gayles. “I want to be candid and transparent in sharing my experience with the vaccine to help address any concerns, questions, or anxiety around receiving it.”

Montgomery County is following the priority designations outlined by Governor Larry Hogan and that all Maryland counties will follow:

1A: Frontline health care workers, staff and residents of nursing homes, and first responders
1B: Essential workers and residents over the age of 75
1C: Individuals over the age of 65

The process for identifying the order by which all recipients within Priority Group 1A will be vaccinated will be determined by the quantity of vaccine the County receives and when it arrives.

The second priority group includes people in critical, essential infrastructure roles as well as those people at moderately higher risk of severe illness. The general public will have the chance to be vaccinated when the initial priority groups have been fully vaccinated. It is estimated that the general public will have the opportunity to receive the vaccination sometime in the spring of 2021.

In addition to County-operated vaccination clinics, when there is an adequate supply of vaccine, there will be additional places to get vaccinated, including physician’s offices and other primary care providers.

Health care providers in the County should complete this survey to let DHHS know how many of their staff may need coverage.

Visit the County’s COVID-19 website for frequently asked questions about vaccinations. The page will be continually updated to reflect the latest information available on the ongoing effort to slow and stop the spread of COVID-19.

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Media Contact: Mary Anderson, mary.anderson@montgomerycountymd.gov

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Follow the Money

By Adam Pagnucco.

To understand the growing strains on MoCo’s pandemic-stricken budget, it helps to follow the money. Here is an example.

Follow This Money

Last spring, the county council voted down compensation increases contained in the collective bargaining agreements negotiated by County Executive Marc Elrich with the three county employee unions: MCGEO, the fire fighters and the police. The increases totaled $22 million in the current fiscal year and $29 million annually thereafter. This was the sixth time that the county trimmed or eliminated raises for employees in the last eleven fiscal years. (The county zeroed out raises in FY11, 12, 13 and 21 and reduced collectively bargained raises in FY17 and 20.)

At around the same time, the executive granted the three unions indefinite COVID pay without seeking the consent of the council. There is no question that workers exposed to hazardous conditions deserve extra compensation. The issues are that the executive’s COVID pay far exceeds what any other government in the region (and maybe the entire nation) has granted and that it has no fixed end date. The cost of this pay is $4 million a pay period or roughly $100 million a year, more than three times the compensation increases contained in the now-abrogated contracts. Employees of the college, school district and park and planning are not getting the money. It must be noted that the president of the largest county union said two years ago, “Marc Elrich won the primary thanks to our shoe leather.” Subsequently, the inspector general found that workers were getting pay to which they were not entitled in at least one county department.

No county leaders argue that employees should get zero emergency pay. Instead, the problem now is that the county has little clue how to pay for it even as its budget has been crippled by the COVID recession. Originally, the extra pay was supposed to be mostly reimbursed by FEMA, but the county’s emergency management director called that into question in October. The emergency pay liability grows every day and the need to pay it off grows more desperate.

Now Follow This Money

The county received a $183 million allocation of federal CARES Act money last spring to help it pay for COVID expenses, including aid for pandemic-stricken residents and businesses. But there’s a catch: if the county doesn’t use the federal money for eligible purposes by December 30, it forfeits it. In October, the county council went nuclear upon finding out that the executive branch was slow to spend the federal money it had appropriated for various assistance programs, including aid for rent, food security, child care and more. Administration representatives said that they were trying to prevent fraud and waste and dealing with frustrating FEMA paperwork requirements.

Now it turns out that the money won’t all be spent by December 30. Council staff wrote last week:

CRF [Coronavirus Relief Fund] monies received by Montgomery County must be spent on costs incurred on or before December 30, 2020. Since March 2020, the County Council has enacted special appropriations to help Montgomery County residents and businesses endure the pandemic and its effects. Due to the restrictions on spending imposed by Congress, the Administration expects that $9,934,156 in CRF dollars will be unspent based on current spending patterns and demands. The list below details the special appropriations where funds will likely go unspent.

The table below shows the $9.9 million in unspent federal money by assistance program. The three biggest programs are child care, assistance to distressed common ownership communities and African American health care.

So it appears that families needing child care, residents of distressed common ownership communities and African Americans needing health care may not be getting the federal grant money the council allocated to them. (They might not be completely out of pocket as the executive has recommended the use of county reserves to help.) That said, the $9.9 million in federal grant money still needs to be used by December 30 or forfeited. What’s the administration’s plan for that?

The executive branch sent the council a resolution that says essentially: trust us. The resolution suggests a number of alternate uses for the federal grant money and then says this:

If any of the $9,934,156 is unable to be spent on the Council priority uses identified above in advance of the deadline established by Congress, these funds may also be used for any eligible expense previously authorized by the Council by Resolution 19-498.

And what does Resolution 19-498 authorize? Lots of things, including this:

Payroll expenses for public safety, public health, health care, human services, and similar employees whose services are substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency, including any pay differential provided to employees responding to the public health crisis. [Bold added for emphasis]

Last Tuesday, the council approved the executive’s resolution to allow a potential transfer on an 8-1 vote with only Council Member Andrew Friedson dissenting.

And so federal grant money set aside by the council for families needing child care, residents of distressed common ownership communities and African Americans needing health care is now subject to diversion to pay off part of the soaring emergency pay liability created by the executive. But even if that happens, it’s not the end of the story. There is only $9.9 million in unspent federal money in play here whereas the total emergency pay liability accounts for $4 million a pay period, or $100 million a year. A reallocation would buy the county about five weeks of time. After that, the liability resumes spraying red ink.

What will happen next as the day of reckoning draws near?

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MCEA to School Board: Reopening Should be Safe

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a letter written to the school board today, Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) President Chris Lloyd called for a number of measures to ensure that any reopening of schools would be as safe as possible.  Among those measures are the installation of effective air handling systems in every classroom, a health and safety committee at every school, strict social distancing, personal protective equipment and a choice of work location for educators.

Lloyd’s letter is reprinted below.

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December 11, 2020

Sent Via Email

Office of the Board of Education
Montgomery County Public Schools
Carver Educational Services Center
850 Hungerford Drive, Room 123
Rockville, Maryland 20850

Dear President Wolff and Members of the Board of Education,

I write to you today on behalf of the Montgomery County Education Association in relation to the Tuesday, December 15, 2020 Board of Education meeting, and the discussion/action around the return to physical workspaces.

We affirm the value of in-person learning, in support of the needs of our young scholars and their academic and social-emotional well-being. We call upon you to demand that our state and county leaders make the required investments in physical workspaces and institute policies to curb the significant community spread of this virus.

All of us need to be advocating for policies and funding needed for the safe schools our communities deserve. There is a fierce urgency in this work, so that we can return to schools as soon as possible. It is incumbent on policy makers to prioritize public education and the safety of adults and children in our care, not through proclamation, but through investment and policies.

We want to return to school safely and soon, and we can do this by stopping the rampant community spread, and by simultaneously providing proper health and safety protocols at the worksite. Acting immediately on these two items will allow our schools to thrive.

We have the knowledge and understanding of how to stop community spread. We’ve seen countries such as Australia institute polices that not only bent the curve of transmission but caused a precipitous and effective drop in cases and deaths, which allowed for safety in a community and its schools. Stopping the rampant community spread in our community is a matter of public policy and will, and it can be done if we decide to do so.

We have the knowledge, understanding and the resources to make workplaces safe. The Silver Diner in Rockville safely uses UV light in its air handling to eradicate the virus, and transmission there is significantly lower than average. Other worksites such as grocery stores have installed plexiglass barriers, used face masks and face shields, while simultaneously and significantly increasing the air exchange rate and air filtration in their buildings, aggressively moving air up and out of the building. These are examples of ways critical and essential businesses are seeking to eradicate the virus in their buildings. For one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, with $184 million in CARES Act funding, there is an obligation to act in this way in our public buildings.

We believe schools are essential, and therefore deserve essential funding to make the buildings and the inhabitants safe. Instituting a paycheck protection program for county businesses will allow us to stop the spread, and to open up the most important buildings for our children – our schools. By prioritizing schools and protecting our most vulnerable workers, we can both control the virus, keep our economy strong, and invite students back into buildings.

We call on the immediate funding and installation of effective air handling systems in each classroom, that provide for necessary air transfer, filtration and virus eradication.

We call for a laser focus on instruction, that educators can teach either online or in buildings, so that we can meet the needs of young scholars in our care and focus our efforts either in-person or online.

We call for Health and Safety Committees at each school, to look after the physical and emotional security of our students.

We call for every inhabited space in our schools to have the safety we’ve come to know and expect, and just like other emergencies, for educators to have the ability to remove themselves and their students from life-threatening situations.

We call for strict social distancing measures and needed PPE so that we can protect our children, families and staff.

We call for the choice of work location for educators, either remote or in-person, so that we can meet the needs of our teachers, and all of the children in their care.

All of this is possible with action now, so that we can bend the pandemic curve and have our buildings safe for occupancy. It will require funding and policies that make clear the top priority of this community is its schools and other people’s children. Fierce urgency and moral courage demands nothing less.

We alone cannot make our schools safe. We alone cannot stop the rampant spread of the virus. But we can lead the efforts to make this happen. It took weeks, and not months, for other countries with strict policies to bring the spread of the virus under control. It took investment by a community to make workplaces safe. We should do the same, demand the same, and then return to school safely and soon after executing such policies and infrastructure investments.

Sincerely,

Christopher Lloyd, NBCT

President, MCEA

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