Short session proves productive at addressing state's major issues
The Oregon Legislature recently concluded the most significant short session in our state's history.
Like the rest of the country, Oregonians have faced tremendous challenges the last two years. When we stepped into new leadership roles as speaker and majority leader two weeks before the 2022 legislative session, we knew we needed to stay laser focused on addressing the most immediate and pressing needs of working individuals and families.
We were fortunate to have steady revenue and federal American Rescue Plan dollars to help us tackle these five priorities: Urgently addressing the homelessness and the affordable housing crisis; building stronger schools; supporting working families and small businesses; driving down the cost of living; investing in community safety and violence prevention.
Oregon needs to create a coordinated response to homelessness by partnering with local cities and counties across Oregon. We can do that by providing funding to get struggling Oregonians into housing or shelter, connected to critical support services, and on the path out of homelessness.
That was the focus of the $400 million investment package: to respond to and prevent homelessness, increase affordable housing supply and keep people in affordable homes. These investments will address immediate statewide needs, including for more shelter capacity, rapid rehousing, resource referrals and services.
Project Turnkey is one success story that we are building on. The program converts existing hotel and motel space into shelter. In less than two years, Project Turnkey has increased the number of shelter beds in the state by 20%, which is why we included an additional $50 million to purchase additional properties across the state.
Students learn best when they are in classrooms five days a week. We entered the session knowing that teachers and schools needed more support and staffing to be successful. Right now, many teachers are burned out and our schools are facing educator workforce shortages.
We responded by approving a $300 million education investment, including funding to recruit and retain critical staff — like teachers, nurses, school counselors and substitutes — so that our kids can stay in healthy, safe learning environments.
And for the second consecutive year, the state will increase summer learning activities and programs for K-12 students. This will include support to help high school students stay on track for graduation, provide mental health support for kids, and help communities develop day camps, park programs and tutoring.
Working families and small businesses
We need to rebuild an economy that works for working families and small businesses, not just the wealthiest of individuals and largest corporations.
To help our small businesses meet their work force needs, we supported over $200 million in investments in career pathways and programs to retain and attract workers in critical sectors, including healthcare, behavioral health, education, manufacturing and technology. We also significantly increased access to loans for small businesses, allowing for greater investments in Oregon's aspiring entrepreneurs.
Cost of living support
For too many Oregonians, covering their monthly expenses has become a challenge. That's why this session we made targeted investments to drive down the cost of necessities that eat of the largest portion of Oregonians' paychecks, like childcare and health care. We invested $100 million to stabilize the childcare workforce and increase access to affordable childcare statewide.
To lift up working communities, Oregonians who received the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in 2020 will soon receive a one-time $600 stimulus payment. This means about a quarter million Oregonians in low-wage jobs will receive a direct payment by this summer to help cover the costs of everyday necessities like groceries, prescriptions and diapers. This plan will particularly benefit people living in rural Oregon counties.
We need to continue investing in proven programs to prevent violence, support crime victims, and provide mental health and substance abuse treatment.
That's why we made smart investments in community safety, including funding to support community-based organizations working to prevent violence; expand hospital-based programs to stop shootings; help local communities clean up trash and provide sanitation services, and provide additional resources for the Oregon Domestic & Sexual Violence Services Fund.
Communities also need law enforcement to be able to focus on preventing and solving serious crimes. Senate Bill 1510 will reduce traffic stops for infractions like broken taillights that aren't dangerous and disproportionately impact communities of color, so police can focus on stopping real crime.
We are confident that when the five-week session concluded on March 4, three days ahead of schedule, we put Oregon's recovery on the right path. We know that Oregonians want results, not partisan gamesmanship. The work we did this session will address immediate needs, while setting up the stage for the longer-term work that we'll come back to do in future sessions.
Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) is Speaker for the Oregon House; Julie Fahey (D-West Eugene/Junction City) is House Majority Leader for the Oregon House
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