- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Montgomery County lawmakers on Tuesday discussed strategies to collect the most accurate census data in a jurisdiction with a variety of immigrant communities that might be fearful of sharing information with the government.

The County Council also took action on climate change-related bills that would ban balloon releases and would ensure that landlords provide air conditioning to tenants.

Diane Vu, director of the county’s Office of Community Partnerships, said the U.S. Census Bureau has fewer resources to perform outreach because it has shifted its once-in-a-decade survey primarily online.

“There is a very different political climate this year,” Ms. Vu told the council members in her briefing. “The federal administration’s attempt to include the citizenship question — let me be clear, the citizenship question is not going to be included on the census — but the damage from that to our communities is everlasting.”

For the first time ever, states have had to invest significantly in census outreach. Maryland has invested more than $5 million dollars, about $581,000 of which was awarded to Montgomery County in grants.

The county is employing outreach strategies among ethnic grocery stores and faith organizations, using a bee mascot to encourage kids to “Bee Counted” and partnering with organizations like Metro and Telemundo to connect with historically undercounted populations such as children under the age of 5 and foreign-born residents, who make up a third of the county.

Although the county had a high response rate of about 80% for the 2010 census, the county loses out on more than $18,000 in federal funding for every person who is not counted.

Meanwhile, the council took a final vote on legislation that would require landlords to provide air conditioning services when the temperature reaches 80 degrees Fahrenheit in rental housing, with exemptions for single family homes and certain historic buildings.

“We have had a requirement for heat for a very, very long time because it really is a life or death issue if people don’t have heat and air conditioning has become a life or death issue as well not just a comfort issue,” said council Vice President Tom Hucker, District 5 Democrat.

Council member Will Jawando, at-large Democrat, raised concerns about the exemptions for single family homes, saying they should be safe and habitable even though only a few people rent them.

“It’s getting hotter, we know which direction we are heading, we haven’t had snow this winter yet, and so I think we might have to revisit this,” Mr. Jawando said.

Mr. Hucker introduced legislation that would prohibit the release of balloons, calling them “advertised, organized littering.”

“Do a quick Google search on balloon releases and you will probably be surprised, as I was, at how often these are still held in our area,” he said, adding that birds, turtles, fish and other animals ingest the balloons and die.

Mr. Hucker said that balloons from the Indianapolis 500 have been found in Maryland and that balloons released in this area end up in the Chesapeake Bay.

His bill would penalize balloon releasers with a fine of $500 for a first offense and $750 for subsequent offenses.

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