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Records show state spending climbing rapidly; unclear how much federal government will reimburse.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Oregon agencies are still spending money on the state's COVID-19 response, on things like protective gear for front-line medical workers, even as some departments have to reduce their budgets.As Oregon braces for deep cuts and a revenue shortfall of as much as $3 billion, state spending on direct coronavirus response has blown through the $100 million mark — and doubled in just the last two weeks reported, records show.

The high rate of spending provides context for ongoing tensions between state and local governments over about $1.4 billion that the state received from the federal government under the federal CARES Act. So far the state has agreed to shift about $415 million to local and tribal governments, but Multnomah Chair Deborah Kafoury and Clackamas Chair Jim Bernard said Friday that they aren't getting enough to fund costs associated with their counties' reopening.

The situation will take more shape with state economists' release on Wednesday of a budget forecast. But if state agencies continue spending $20 million to $30 million a week just on direct coronavirus spending, the 12-month total of unexpected spending would easily exceed $1 billion — and that does not include indirect costs caused by the pandemic.

The spending includes tens of millions for personal protective equipment, payments to local public health authorities, and a $4.2 million weekly payment to two nursing facilities that the state is paying to house nursing home residents who have COVID-19.

Andrew Phelps heads the state Office of Emergency Management, which has been tracking the spending. He said there are more questions than answers over how much of Oregon's spending on the coronavirus will be recouped — even concerning the CARES Act money that's already been authorized.

"We've gotten pretty definitive guidance that it can't be used to make up for lost revenue that the state or more local jurisdictions experience," he said, but beyond that, there's been "so little guidance."

One point of clarity: the CARES funding must be spent by Dec. 31.

The other area where the state can go for funding is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thanks to a disaster declaration issued for Oregon by President Donald Trump on March 29. But how much it will get is unclear.

That program typically reimburses state spending by a rate of 75%, but Oregon is seeking a full 100% — much as Puerto Rico received after Hurricane Maria in 2018, Phelps noted.

Gov. Kate Brown on May 1 made that request. About a dozen states have sent similar letters, said her spokesman, Charles Boyle. Oregon hasn't yet received a response.

Brown recently said more federal coronavirus aid will be needed to offset the state's planned cuts.


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