LAUREL – County Executive Rushern Baker III’s second budget listening session brought advocates for student enrichment programs, service providers for those with developmental disabilities, agriculture and more to Laurel High School to express their opinions to Baker and his staff. As at the previous budget session held on Feb. 4, the Feb. 9 hearing brought […]
LAUREL – County Executive Rushern Baker III’s second budget listening session brought advocates for student enrichment programs, service providers for those with developmental disabilities, agriculture and more to Laurel High School to express their opinions to Baker and his staff.
As at the previous budget session held on Feb. 4, the Feb. 9 hearing brought many people advocating for PG 414-16, a state bill that would allow for a salary increase for those who care for people with developmental disabilities by increasing state subsidies and county reimbursements to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
“I kind of feel déjà vu. But we need your help. We can’t do this alone,” said Nancy Tolbert, executive director of CAMRA Inc., speaking on behalf of the Prince George’s Provider Council. “Our staff is not minimum wage employees. They have to go through extensive training. They are responsible for people’s lives.”
She added the provider agencies can’t raise prices, which are set by the state, nor can they cut many services because of mandates for a minimum level of service.
“We’re stuck and we need your help,” she said.
Donald Lane, a county resident, spoke about the benefits his son has experienced working with New Horizons, which led to him becoming a volunteer at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
“I have to honestly say these folks, they do a wonderful job of bringing life to people who otherwise would not have all that life has to offer,” he said. “I came here in support of this bill because I feel if it’s not funded, if it’s not approved, then we’re looking at cuts within the organization. Cuts mean someone else has to pick up that workload, but more importantly stuff gets dropped through the floor.”
Once again, Baker did not comment on the issue beyond thanking the people who came out to testify.
“I appreciate how hard it is to get people in and out so I don’t take it lightly that you came out,” he said.
Baker did announce, however, that as a result of last week’s testimony, he had reconsidered the decision to cut funding for the agriculture marketing specialist position, currently held by Kim Rush-Lynch.
“I want you and your colleagues to know that you’ve done a great job (advocating), therefore we’ve decided to keep this position,” he said. “So you will have your (agricultural) person.”
The announcement came after the remarks of local farmer Jennifer Bennett, who runs a small family farm in Brandywine. She explained how Rush-Lynch helps her and other farmers stay informed about marketing options, develop business plans and identify market needs in the area, for example a need for rabbit meat that Bennett was otherwise unaware of.
“This position is beyond needed in this county, where rules are endless and money for new farmers is scarce,” she said. “We don’t ask for money and concessions often, so you know when we sit before you, it is a serious need.”
Funding for after-school and extracurricular programs was also a hot topic, with representatives from Lovely Ladies of Laurel and First Generation College Bound testifying on the work those organizations do and the need to support those efforts financially.
Lovely Ladies of Laurel is a mentoring program out of Laurel High School that seeks to promote respect, responsibility and academic achievement among the young women in Laurel and surrounding communities.
“It is because of this program I am who I am today,” said Angel Tillery, an alumna of the program who attends Bowie State University.
Another Bowie State University student, Xavier Sykes, praised the First Generation College Bound organization founded by Joseph Fisher to help students from low and moderate-income families attend college by providing guidance, encouragement and support.
“I’ve found this to be a missing component in my life,” Fisher said in explaining why he started the organization. “It’s important the county recognizes we’re not just here in Laurel, but trying to help the county (all over).”
Bridget Akintunde, a member of the retention committee and an alumna of the program herself, agreed.
“I think it’s important for the county to still fund this organization because of the many great things they are doing with students across Prince George’s County to help them realize the dream of going to college,” she said.
Tatiana Sandoval, a youth case manager with the Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers, also testified about the need to fund after-school programs in general, as well as programs for newly-arrived immigrants and students whose primary language is not English specifically. She also said affordable health and mental health services should be more accessible and schools need to have health and fitness programs.
Health was also the theme for Chloe Marshall, outreach coordinator for the Capital Area Food Bank. She pressed Baker to restore full funding for the SNAP to Health program, which allows families receiving food stamps easier access to fresh produce and other healthy food options.
“SNAP itself allows families to have more autonomy in what they can purchase for themselves, but SNAP to Health really gives them that option of that fresh local produce from local farmers that support our economy,” she said.
Marshall also described a time in her life when she was a SNAP recipient utilizing her benefits at a farmer’s market in Baltimore.
“I got to witness a community come together to celebrate local businesses and to make informed decisions about what they were putting in their bodies,” she said.
Other residents testified about the customer service of county agencies like the police department and the office of law; the need for funding to clean up a drainage pond in Springdale; funding for volunteer firefighters and their inclusion in decision-making for the county fire department; supporting the Bowie Business Incubation Center; money for transportation demand management districts in the north county; and the benefits of the public libraries.