If the federal government sticks to the timeline it set forth when Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act back in March, Clackamas County could see at least half of its promised $81 million in its bank account by May 11.
Disaster Management Director Nancy Bush told county commissioners this welcome bit of news on Tuesday, April 27, as county businesses braced once again for the state's most stringent restrictions. Clackamas County is being moved back to 'extreme risk,' likely beginning on Friday, April 30.
Despite its case rates being well above the threshold for "extreme risk" for a week, Clackamas County has remained at "high risk" as Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority factored in new metrics for risk levels that consider statewide hospital capacity. As hospitalizations in the region continue to rise with the number of weekly cases, Clackamas County's grace period has nearly run its course.
With that in mind, commissioners agreed at their Tuesday morning policy session to sign onto an Association of Oregon Counties letter asking Brown to reconsider restrictions on restaurants and other businesses within counties expecting to be elevated to "extreme risk."
The threat of further shutdowns makes the promise of receiving at least $40.5 million by May 11 an exciting prospect for the county seeking to help struggling businesses and nonprofit organizations, mitigate public health impacts of COVID-19 and provide premium pay to frontline workers.
But according to Bush, the county has yet to receive formal guidance on how to spend those funds from the U.S. Department of Treasury.
A county workgroup led by Bush has, however, finished drafting the "purpose statement" to guide the overall distribution of the funds made available by the Rescue Plan, focusing on preparedness and resiliency moving forward. This statement makes a commitment to ensure that Clackamas County communities and businesses of color will be prioritized, as they've felt the brunt of COVID-19's health and economic impacts.
Clackamas County will distribute a survey in several languages to county residents and businesses throughout the month of May to gain a better understanding of what needs and barriers different communities are facing due to pandemic and identify ways the county might provide support.
"There's also discussions with the workgroup about the libraries and the courthouse — would that be a part of these dollars? And, of course, we're going to look to the county commissioners to have those discussions with us as well," Bush said.
Bush told commissioners she would come back before the board for approval in the coming two months once the feds provide guidance on potential uses of the $81 million and the county has a clearer picture of where it might make allocations.
Meanwhile, the county issued a statement from County Chair Tootie Smith on Tuesday afternoon criticizing Brown's handling of the pandemic, more specifically the most recent wave of infections that has gripped the state and nation. Smith advocated for the state to take a "data-driven" approach to curtailing infections.
"The plan that (Gov. Brown) has been using for the past year to slow the spread of the disease by keeping businesses locked down has not adapted to this dynamic pandemic. Her metrics for reopening are eroding trust in many communities including Clackamas County," Smith said. "I am so sorry these lockdowns continue. As the chair of the Clackamas county board, I am going to continue to advocate to the state that they come up with a sensible approach to slow the spread of COVID-19 without causing additional harm to our community and businesses."
Smith sent out a slightly different version of her statement on Monday evening that included a brief sentence stating that Oregon should adopt "new and innovative technologies" to combat COVID from changes airline companies have made over the past year. The official version of the statement from the county's public and government affairs office omits this statement.
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