In Budget Advocacy, COVID-19, Montgomery County Budget, Montgomery County, MD

This is a guest post by Anita Lampel, co-chair of JUFJ’s Montgomery County Leadership Council.

JUFJ members on Zoom advocate for a moral Montgomery County budget

During a normal County budget cycle, JUFJ would meet with the County Executive, with County Councilmembers, their staff, and with our allies to determine priorities for Montgomery County’s budget. We would show up “in the seats” with our shirts, buttons, and signs, and we would offer in-person testimony on issues of critical concern to us.  

This year, of course, looked different: we hosted virtual watch parties using Zoom and YouTube, we took screenshots of our virtual gatherings, and we made our presence known by posting on Facebook and Twitter. We advocated for, and obtained, live testimony by telephone to Councilmembers during public hearings. Without this advocacy, only written testimony would have been permitted. We thank the Council for enabling live phone testimony as well as options to submit testimony in advance by video, phone, and in writing.

Now that the final vote on the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) budget has been taken, we join our partners in thanking the Council for funding the following:

  • The Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice staffing and training
  • $10M in direct relief fund for people who are not eligible for federal and state funding, because if even a single member of a family does not have a Social Security number, no one in the family receives any aid
  • An additional 10 school nurses 
  • Moving select nonprofit grants to the base budget

We also lift up the efforts of County Executive Elrich and Councilmembers Hucker and Jawando to support renegotiated collective bargaining agreements for our front-line and essential county workers. These agreements were voted down by the rest of the Council, and we urge the Council to revisit that decision.

We appreciate the efforts of County Executive Marc Elrich to find new, minimally impactful, sources of revenue for the County to ensure that we have enough money to meet the needs of our citizens and our schools. Since no new revenue was approved, this is also a discussion that will also have to be revisited by the Executive and the Council.

Our focus now is on a JUST and MORAL recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. As important decisions continue to be made, the Montgomery County Council must: 

  • Put People First: The first priority for Montgomery County government assistance should be residents and small, local businesses with the greatest need, not the city’s most successful businesses and wealthiest residents. This includes honoring the product of the collective bargaining process with public sector unions.  
  • Commit to Transparency: Council hearings must center the voices of public witnesses who will be directly affected by funding decisions. Phone testimony is an important step forward, and we urge you to implement video testimony to create direct, transparent engagement between the people and the Council. 
  • Meet Human Needs: Programs that serve the health, housing, food access, economic security, and educational needs of County residents and workers must be protected. Maintaining a social safety net is vital to keeping people afloat during a period of economic recovery so they can emerge stronger. The security of our immigrant residents is also critical and must include a full commitment to supporting legal representation, including for currently detained people.
  • Demand Racial Equity: Black and brown residents have been the hardest hit by COVID-19 and are historically the last to bounce back after an economic downturn. This is not a result of individual residents’ choices, but rather of policy decisions. To ensure the recovery is equitable, the Council must apply the new Racial Equity and Social Justice framework to budget and recovery policy decisions.
  • Choose to Raise Revenue: Budgets are moral documents. Decisions to balance budgets on the backs of poor and working class people through cuts to essential services are not inevitable. There is a better, more equitable path forward to ensure our economy recovers justly through innovative use of current funds, raising revenue from our wealthiest residents and most successful businesses who have benefited from significant federal tax giveaways in recent years, and fixing our property tax structure for the long term.

The Council will return to the FY21 budget as predictions for the county’s future revenue and expenses become clearer. We will be there, as we have been, following deliberations and advocating for decisions that reflect our values. The items of critical importance to us and our partners, the majority of which the Council said they would revisit, are the following:

  • 1.5% inflationary adjustment to eligible non-profit contracts 
  • 1.5% increase in payment to eligible providers of Services to the Developmentally Disabled 
  • 1.5% increase in payment to eligible providers of Adult Medical Daycare Services
  • Raising salaries of front-line workers
  • Additional funds for eviction prevention and relief for renters
  • Money for schools, early childhood education, and affordable housing
  • Funds for legal representation for people facing deportation who are currently detained
  • Adequate funding for PPE and hygiene supplies for currently incarcerated people and housing, medical, and other support for people when they return to the community

We look forward to joining our partners in working with the Council and with the County Executive as this time of critical decision-making continues. We ask the Council and Executive to remember that increased cooperation and communication are foundational to progress always, and even more so at this time. The final vote on the FY21 budget has been taken, but the work is far from over. 

Do you feel like you still need to learn more about Montgomery County and how our advocacy works? Join us for a JUFJ Montgomery County 101 training call on Sunday, June 7 at 7:00 PM or Tuesday, June 9 at 12:00 PM.

To get involved in our ongoing work for a just and moral recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, join our next county recovery calls on Sunday, June 14 at 7:00 PM or Tuesday, June 16 at 12:00 PM.

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Anita Lampel (she/her/hers) is co-chair of the Montgomery County Leadership Council.

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