Council approves COVID-19 spending priorities Wednesday
The Portland City Council finalized spending $114 million in emergency federal COVID-19 response funding on Wednesday, July 22.
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty was the only council member to vote no, saying the money could have supported more people in need.
"I believe the proposal will help keep thousands of Portlanders in their homes, and assist struggling small businesses and nonprofits to stay afloat as we weather the pandemic and economic downturn," Mayor Ted Wheeler said. "The proposal represents our shared values, and these investments will help keep Portlanders housed, fed and employed through the worst of the crisis."
As approved, the ordinance will allocate $39.1 million to Multnomah County. That would include $20 million for public health services and $19.1 million for serving the homeless.
Other large spending categories include: $20.4 million for assisting low-income households with meals, groceries and gift cards; $17 million for rent assistance and mortgage counseling and asssitance to help families keep their housing; $15 million to support small businesses hurt by the pandemic-related shutdown; and 9.1 million for the City's COVID-19 response.
In addition, $5 million would be targeted for cities in East Multnomah County, $4.4 million would be spent supporting arts and cultural organizations, and $3.5 million would go toward helping low-income households bridge the digital divide, and $550,000 would fund a public health outreach campaign focused on transit and the public right of way.
"As a result of the social distancing mandates require by the State and around the nation, our region has experienced the most severe economic downturn in the past century. With hundreds of businesses required to temporarily close or scale down, Multnomah County's unemployment went from a historically low rate of 3.2% in February 2020 to 15.2% in April, resulting over approximately 123,000 individuals without jobs and at risk," read the ordinance that directs where the funds will go.
The money is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding approved by Congress. It cannot be used to replace revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic but must fund responses to it.
The $39.1 million is especially critical to Multnomah County, which is leading the public health response to the pandemic and working to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in the homeless population. Only the State of Oregon and city of Portland qualified for CARES funding.
According to the ordinance, the East Multnomah County assistance program is called PDX-CARES and is intended to help traditionally marginalized communities.
"PDX-CARES household and business relief programs shall be used to assist Portland's most vulnerable populations and to the maximum extent possible, priority shall be given to Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) families and individuals, BIPOC businesses, homeless and houseless communities and people with disabilities," the ordinance reads.
During a May 25 work session on the spending priorities, the Office of Management and Finance proposed spending $11.6 million to improve the ability of City employees to work from home during the pandemic. The council decided to spend all the money trying to meet community needs instead.
According to the City, due to the nature of the COVID-19 crisis, some expenditures needed to be made prior to the Council's July 22 action. Early expenses included public hygiene stations, temporary Outdoor Emergency Shelters for those experiencing homelessness and community requests for supplies.
You can read the ordinance here.
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