Categories
Government State

COVID-19 Exposure Notifications are now available in Maryland on iOS and Android devices

COVID-19 Exposure Notifications are now available for Maryland. The notification system is an API developed by Apple and Google in conjunction with health departments to help alert individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19. For privacy reasons, these alerts are turned off by default but you can turn them on if you’d like to be notified.

On iOS, go to Settings -> Exposure Notifications

On Android, go to Settings -> Google -> COVID-19 Exposure Notifications

Categories
Government Montgomery County

What’s wrong with higher taxes?

Adam Pagnucco at The Seventh State recently wrote about Montgomery County’s spending during the pandemic, arguing that the county needs to balance the budget. His alternative was to threaten a tax hike. It seems unlikely the federal government will send more funds to state and local governments under another stimulus program. The situation is a lot more nuanced than that, and direr if the county cuts or stops spending to help residents during a pandemic in which the federal government has been unable and unwilling to offer relief.

Tax rates

First, let’s get taxes out of the way. Montgomery County has one of the lowest real, personal, and utility tax rates in the entire state. Only a handful of counties have lower tax rates than Montgomery County. We happen to live in one of the wealthiest counties in the entire country, with five billionaires that made the Forbes’ 400 richest American’s list in 2019. Five. Billionaires. Let’s put billions into perspective though. It’s a hard number to grasp because it’s so much larger than anything most Americans will have access to. 10,000 seconds is about one-tenth of an entire day. 100,000 seconds is a little over one day. 1,000,000 is about 11 days. 1,000,000,000 seconds is…a little over 31 years.

Let’s also consider that Montgomery County has the most households in Maryland and the highest median household income per capita in Maryland, according to the 2010 U.S. Census and the 2010-2014 American Community Survey.

So Montgomery County has the most households and is one of the wealthiest counties in the entire country (and coincidentally also in Maryland) but also has one of the lowest tax rates in the state.

Residents in crisis

There are around 130,000 rental units in Montgomery County and 15% of them haven’t been able to pay full rent during the pandemic. The Department of Housing and Community Affairs estimates that landlords are losing around $35 million a month in rent. Now, I’m not a huge fan of landlords, but this sounds pretty bad. In fact, a looming eviction crisis would absolutely devastate the economy in Montgomery County. We would lose 22,000 residents and any taxes that they pay. The only good thing that would come of it would be lower rents for those that could afford to stay (maybe). We can also assume that if these folks can’t pay rent, they can’t pay utilities.

In addition to housing, many residents are struggling to buy necessities, including food. We’ve all seen pictures of endless lines of cars while they wait for grocery distribution at one of the distribution points in the county.

Students enrolled at MCPS and their families are having a hard time accessing school-provided lunches. Parents have to go back to work because no one can afford extended shutdowns when the federal government can’t function. Students have to spend time managing the household while their parents are working.

Taxes aren’t the bogeyman

Taxes pay for services that residents use daily. Utilities, roads, first responder services, police, traffic lights, public transportation, schools, libraries, etc. They also are used to pay for emergency services that residents have needed during the pandemic. Without these services, the county would ultimately be in a much worse situation. Imagine having one of the lowest tax rates in the state but not the tax base to maintain it. We are already in a precarious situation, banking on continual population growth to maintain the tax revenue needed to fund county services. What happens if mass evictions take place once the eviction moratorium ends? If residents can’t pay rent, they certainly won’t be able to pay any back rent once the pandemic ends. Where are they going to go? Montgomery County is one of the most expensive places to live in the entire DMV. They won’t stay here. Montgomery County doesn’t have enough housing, let alone affordable housing.

Fewer taxes means more potholes, fewer first responders, fewer new books at libraries, more classrooms being overcrowded, aging infrastructure that can’t be replaced, fewer health and mental health services, slower public transportation. When people talk about “balancing budgets” and threaten tax hikes, they never consider the impact it will have on everyday services for everyday people. During non-pandemic times, we never had enough money or will to fund services that middle and low-income residents needed to stay afloat. Now that we have a pandemic and a looming financial and housing crisis, we need more government spending, not less. This is precisely the time for a tax hike. Don’t be fooled by people who claim austerity is the way to go. We don’t need a balanced budget, we need to help our residents survive a pandemic.

If you feel that this helped you in any way, consider buying MoCo Local a coffee or beer. You can do so through Venmo (@Vito-Anastasia).

Categories
Montgomery County

Most want county to institute COVID-19 restrictions if cases continue to rise

MoCo Local conducted a poll via Instagram and Twitter asking if residents think Montgomery County should institute restrictions again if COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the County.

Many residents expressed concerns for indoor dining and bar activity:

Samantha Jones on Twitter

Others expressed concerns that residents were not properly self-isolating, following physical distance guidelines, and not wearing masks properly or at all.

Alexis Miller on Twitter

Others expressed concerns about reinstating limitations. Some argue that residents can’t afford to lose work again. Maryland’s unemployment insurance fiasco is still ongoing, even though the Governor insists that the problems were fixed. Further, the extra $600 unemployment benefits that were included in the first CARES Act have expired and it looks like Congress is willing to cut additional unemployment benefits in additional COVID-19 aid packages.

Some business owners expressed concerns that they will not be able to survive another shutdown

Multiple responses on Instagram stated that State-level leadership is needed and expressed frustration with the governor’s lack of leadership in recent weeks, as well as the inaction of the Maryland General Assembly to hold a special session.

Categories
State

Governor Hogan Orders Stay at Home

On March 30th, 2020 Governor Larry Hogan announced a new “Stay at Home” order. This is not a shelter in place. Below are some the guidelines.

General Guidelines

  • Effective at 8PM on 3/30, everyone must stay in their homes except for essential activities, travel to work, performing services related to work
  • Businesses can remain open if they are considered an essential service
  • Businesses can deliver goods still
  • Businesses that are non-essential can remain open for minimal operations (more info below)
  • Fitness centers, theaters, golf courses, senior centers, and other recreational establishments must remain closed
  • Tattoo parlors, barber shops, salons, etc should be closed
  • If you are a victim of domestic violence or your living situation is unsafe you are allowed to seek a safe space
  • If you are experiencing homelessness you are allowed to seek a safe space
  • If you violate this order you can be charged with a misdemeanor and/or receive a $5,000 fine

What is considered essential?

  • Obtaining supplies (food, medicine, other groceries) for you, your family, and pets
  • Going outside for activity (walking, walking pets, jogging, riding bikes, hiking)
  • Caring for a family member, friend, pet in another household or location (this includes providing transport to an essential service like medical care)
  • Travel required by law enforcement or court order
  • Travel to a federal, State, or local government building for a necessary purpose

Non-Essential Business Guidance

  • You must close to the general public
  • Staff and owners can work but only on minimal operations
  • Minimal operations include: facilitating remote work, maintaining property, preventing loss or damage to property (including ensuring perishables do not spoil)
  • Caring for live animals
  • FOR RETAIL: you can continue to sell products on a delivery basis

Restaurant and Bar Guidance

  • Restaurants and bars will remain closed to the general public except for pickup, carryout, drive-through, delivery
  • Must follow social-distancing recommendations
Categories
Federal Government State

Federal Social Distance Guidelines Extended Through April

Social distancing guidelines have been extended through the end of April, according to Pres. Trump. However, Maryland is following guidelines that lean more towards shelter in place. Governor Hogan has been reluctant to call the actions he and his administration have taken shelter-in-place.

How will this impact MoCo? Most existing Maryland guidelines from the governor have also extended to the end of April so this won’t change what we are doing.

Governor Hogan stated state officials expect an increase of cases in Maryland in 2-3 weeks. Models for Maryland suggest similar results using the restrictions and closures that Hogan implemented.

Categories
County Council Government State Yesterday's News

Yesterday’s News, Today – 3/17/2020

The past few days have been a jumble. I’m not sure what time it is and I keep checking the calendar to make sure I have the right day. It’s stressful, but I’ve seen the community come together and that gives me hope.

There was a lot of news to digest yesterday so here is a condensed version. New updates will be posted on Twitter, Facebook, and/or Instagram.

How to help MoCo during the state of emergency

We are all in a tough spot, but none are getting hit as hard as small businesses and folks that work in the service industry. We’ve put together some ways that you can help them.

News Roundup

Coronavirus

County

State

State of Emergency

Governor Hogan issued new orders for the State of Emergency:

  • ordered bars, restaurants, gyms, and theaters to close as of 5PM on 3/16. Restaurants can still offer drive-thru, carryout, pickup, and delivery.
  • prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people but the CDC now recommends that gatherings be kept to fewer than 10 people
  • the Maryland Department of Health is working on adding an additional 6,000 beds
  • the Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corps have been activated
  • health practitioners with licenses in other states are now allowed to practice in Maryland
  • utilities are prohibited from being shut off and providers cannot charge late fees: this includes gas, electric, water, sewer, phone, cable, and internet
  • evictions are halted during the state of emergency
  • schools can now provide three meals and a snack to each student per day
  • the National Guard has been moved to a higher state of readiness

During the State of Emergency you can request a 30-day refill on your prescriptions. Health insurers are required to cover them and have to waive restrictions on time-limits.

Maryland Business Express released a list of resources for business

A special enrollment period has been opened for the Maryland Health Connection so if you need health insurance, sign up now

Business

I don’t have words to describe this chart showing how dramatic the change in U.S. restaurant customers is.

U.S. Restaurant Diners Disappear With Virus’s Social Distancing

The data doesn’t look better when you add some color to it.

Reminders

It’s important to take time for ourselves so we can reset. Delegate Eric Luedtke shared his experience with anxiety disorder and it was a reminder, to me, to take a few deep breaths.

Categories
Opinion

OPINION: Maryland’s General Assembly Needs to Act Now to Avoid Economic Nightmare

Facts are stubborn things, once quipped the bard Shakespeare. And so they are. There are two important, stubborn facts facing Marylanders today. First is that a global pandemic has reached our shores, and we are now in a state of emergency, both in Maryland and nationwide. The second is that, whether we like it or not, our citizen-legislature has less than a month to pass law before their work comes to an end for a year. 

The first fact is avoidable, but with our federal government response in disarray, likely all the same. The second one is inevitable; we do not as a state have a full-time legislature, and so must reconcile to the fact that our laws are passed and reviewed for only a short window every winter by part-time elected officials with skeletal staffs. But a third fact has yet to indeed become one: an impending economic crisis unlike anything we have seen in recent times.

Another fact: Maryland’s economy is about see a period of slow or reversed growth in the near-term, as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Large retailers have already begun curtailing hours of service, and some have announced eventual plans to shut down operations completely. Small restaurants, cafes, and other service-oriented businesses will soon need to suspend operations, or involuntarily weigh lay staff to deal with decreased revenue. In turn, local business owners and their employees will have significantly less cash in their pocket, if any at all. 

What this means in a society governed by debt and where debt collection is a multi-billion dollar industry, is that everyday Marylanders will face eviction, the cutoff of utilities, foreclosure, car repossession, and derogatory credit reports very, very soon for no fault of their own. The only thing standing in the way of such economic ruin is the General Assembly doing its actual job (less selfies and self-promotional social media posts, please), and passing emergency legislation to enact an automatic stay against debt collection into law. Such a stay has historic precedent in American legal tradition: it is standard with every bankruptcy petition filed with a court. But bankruptcy isn’t really an effective way to deal with the current crisis (and it ruins a person’s financial life for at least seven years). The only real solution available is for the state legislature to admit facts are indeed stubborn things, and get to work right now on emergency legislation to protect Marylanders from predatory collection schemes by creditors whose bottom line is not safeguarding our economy, but maximizing returns for their unscrupulous investors (who else buys the stock of a debt collector?). This isn’t rocket science: the Maryland General Assembly needs to protect our citizens from an economic nightmare. 

Hamza Khan is a local activist based in Potomac, Maryland.

Opinion pieces do not represent the views of MoCo Local. We pride ourselves on publishing content that represents a diverse set of ideas and backgrounds. If you would like to have a piece submitted to to our Op-Ed section, please see more details here.