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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Making child care a priority

On March 17, I introduced legislation creating a Montgomery County Office of Child Care, Early Care and Education to make affordable, quality, enriching child care available to all families.

A rising number of families in Montgomery County are struggling to find affordable, high quality child care. Census data shows that there are more than 64,852 children below the age of five in the county and the Maryland Family Network reports that regulated child care providers offer only 39,084 slots. This leaves a gap of some 26,000 children. Some undoubtedly stay home with family members and many more are cared for by informal, unregistered providers. Some kids may attend child care in other jurisdictions. But ask any parent about their experience with waiting lists and it is clear that demand far exceeds supply for quality, regulated child care. The skyrocketing price of regulated child care supports this theory. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that parents spend 10% or less of their family income on child care. Montgomery County residents, on average, spent 22% of their income on child care in 2014. Child care in Montgomery County costs between 32% and 40% more than the state average. The State predicts that costs will continue to increase through 2018 by between 9% and 14% on average. Infant care is predicted to increase a staggering 40% over the next three years with family care providers.

To address these challenges, I propose legislation establishing a new Office of Child Care, Early Care and Education. This Office would have a Director with the seniority and authority to shape policy and forge meaningful partnerships across agencies and with the private sector. Some functions would be consolidated from the Early Childhood group in the County's Department of Health and Human Services and other offices with child care functions across the government. The Office would be charged with developing, updating, and implementing a Child Care Strategic Plan that addresses child care and early learning in a comprehensive way, establishing new relationships and partnerships with agencies and businesses, overseeing the selection of child care providers in public space, and building a stronger bond with parents in the community.

As President Obama said in his most recent State of the Union, "It's time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women's issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us." I agree with those comments and I believe this Office will help us to appropriately define the challenge and meet it.

In Maryland, most government regulation and promotion of child care is handled by the State, though the County supplements the state's efforts in certain areas. HHS is laser focused, as it's website states, on core services that "protect the community's health, protect the health and safety of at-risk children and vulnerable adults and address basic human needs including food, shelter and clothing." This is as it should be. We rely on this Department to provide a robust safety net that protects our most vulnerable residents.

We do not, however, only provide education for the most disadvantaged children. I believe we should have a policy strategy for child care that is similarly focused on the entire population, while resources are prioritized according to need. Like education, adequate availability of child care affects every family in Montgomery County. A county program that ensures that every family in Montgomery County has access to high quality, affordable, enriching child care is crucial for developing our workforce and economy, ensuring equal opportunity for men and women, and reducing the achievement gap. The creation of this Office will not solve these problems by itself, but it will at least provide us with the analytical framework and focused staffing to make informed investments and take a deliberate approach to define our next steps. The mission is broader than social services and for this reason I believe it is necessary to establish this function as a principal office rather than a division inside of HHS.

The goals for the Office include:

  • Researching need, availability and cost of care.
  • Identifying measures to reduce the rising cost of child care, and ensuring that affordable early child care and learning are available to all County residents.
  • Ensuring that there are sufficient providers and spaces to meet rising demand.
  • Improving the overall quality of early care and education to adequately prepare children for kindergarten and beyond.
  • Fully integrating child care and early learning into our economic and workforce development strategy.
  • Regular reporting on progress towards the plan.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tree Care 101

One of the many great things about Montgomery County is our plentiful green space and robust tree canopy. In addition to removing carbon dioxide from the air, trees purify our water, protect our soil, and cool our neighborhoods on hot summer days.

With my 100,000 trees initiative, the county is doing its part to reinvigorate the tree canopy that we all enjoy, but did you know that nearly 85% of the trees in the county are on private land? I’m proud of the county’s investment in the future of our tree canopy, but no matter how much we do, a fresher, greener, shadier future will always depend on a partnership between our government and our citizens.

With that in mind, I hope those of you with trees in your yards will consider a trip out to one of Conservation Montgomery’s Tree Care 101 Classes this spring. This is a great opportunity to speak with tree-care professionals about everything you can do to keep your trees healthy and beautiful, and enjoy some fresh air at the same time. You can also organize a class in your neighborhood, so talk to your friends and neighbors, and you can bring the class to you. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Liquor Control Committee Set to Begin

As you may have heard, the Montgomery County Council recently created an Ad Hoc Committee on Liquor Control, and I am honored to be chairing that committee.

The Committee has been tasked with reviewing, evaluating, and making recommendations about alternate service delivery models and alcohol regulations and policies. In other words, the Committee will be making recommendations on how the County should control alcohol. This is such an important debate because it closely affects our restaurant and entertainment sectors, quality of life, and ultimately our local economy.

As Chair, I look forward to objectively reviewing all the evidence and community feedback on this crucial issue. To do this, we have scheduled four Committee Worksessions for this Winter/Spring.

February 27 – Overview
  • OLO Report 2015-6: Review of Alcohol Control (read the report here)
  • Discussion with Executive Branch

March 6 – DLC Management and Operations
  • OLO review of legal environment/current DLC operations
  • Presentation from IG on Preliminary Inquiry Memorandum and update on ongoing investigation
  • Discussion with DLC and MCGEO

March 20 – Economic Competitiveness
  • OLO review of DLC/private sector pricing, survey results
  • Discussion with Licensees, Distributors and Manufacturers

March 27 – Public Health and Safety
  • OLO review of research on impact of Liquor Control on public health
  • Discussion with public health and public safety officials

The Committee will resume its work after the County's budget cycle finishes in June. We will hold a public hearing and additional worksessions with the goal of making recommendations to the full County Council for action.

But to make sure that we find a solution that works, we need your expertise. As a first step, please reach out to me with your thoughts by emailing councilmember.riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov or calling my office at 240-777-7964. You can also share your thoughts with the whole council by going to the Committee's Website.

We hope that you will stay engaged with us throughout the entire process, and be on the lookout for updates from me after each worksession. I hope you are as excited as am I to tackle this important issue.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Getting plastic foam out of our waterways

I am happy to share news that in a unanimous vote of my colleagues, the Montgomery County Council passed my bill that bans certain expanded polystyrene or plastic foam products. The focus of the bill is on stopping the harm caused by these food service products when they become litter. Watch a short video on the passage of the bill below.
Passage of the Montgomery County Polystyrene Ban Bill
This bill is needed because plastic foam breaks into pieces and ends up in our rivers, streams, and watersheds. Numerous studies have found that polystyrene foam is a significant source of litter in our waterways, and one study of an Anacostia River tributary found that 22% of the trash collected in a trash trap was polystyrene foam.
With passage of this bill, Montgomery County joins a growing list of progressive communities to ban polystyrene foam, including Washington D.C., San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and New York City. My bill tracks closely with DC’s recently passed ban, but it goes further by banning the sale of consumer foam products in grocery and convenience stores.
Finally, the bill requires that in 2017, all food service products used in the county must be recyclable or compostable. I hope this will strengthen our county's recycling program.
Specifically, my bill does the following three things
1. Prohibits the use of foam food service products by food service businesses beginning on January 1, 2016.
2. Prohibits the sale of foam loose fill packaging (packing peanuts) and bulk foam foodservice products (bulk foam cups and plates) beginning on January 1, 2016.
3. Requires the use of compostable or recyclable food service products by the County, County Contractors, and food service businesses beginning on January 1, 2017.
What makes polystyrene foam a particularly pernicious form of litter is that the petroleum-based plastic breaks down into small pieces, but it does not completely dissolve. This makes it incredibly difficult and costly to clean up. It also ends up in the food supply, as fish and oysters eat the bits of foam. The National Research Council has recently "upheld the listing of styrene as 'reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.'"
Fortunately, there are competitively priced alternatives to polystyrene foam that are much better for the environment. By joining with Washington, DC, we will strengthen the regional market for alternative products.
I want to specifically thank Councilmembers George Leventhal and Marc Elrich as well as County Executive Isiah Leggett for being early supporters of this important legislation. I would also like to thank the coalition of environmental groups, particularly Trash Free Maryland and the Anacostia Watershed society, for their effective activism, and the many residents who spoke out in favor of the bill. We couldn’t have done it without your help.