Money comes from state share of federal aid, but House speaker says 'we need Congress to step up'

Lawmakers have approved about $280 million from Oregon's share of federal aid to help people and businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn.

The actions were voted on Friday, June 5, by the Emergency Board, which consists of 20 lawmakers who handle budget matters when the full Legislature is not in session. Almost all were approved without dissent.

"Given the items we have covered today, the role of the Emergency Board in this pandemic is incredibly important," said House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, at the close of the 2 1/2-hour meeting.

The board deferred two items — expanded aid to small businesses and Oregon's 11 regional solutions teams — totaling $75 million. Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said they will be taken up at a future meeting.

"While we are by no means out of this crisis, today's actions will help Oregonians get through it," Courtney said.

House Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby said lawmakers need to pay attention to the details despite the urgency.

"This is so much money to be spent so quickly that it is critical we get all of this right," she said. "We should work with the best partners to make sure that all of this spending goes to Oregonians in need right now, and that as little as possible is skimmed off the top for state functions."

All the money comes from the $1.4 billion that Oregon state coffers will receive in aid from the $150 billion set aside for states under the federal CARES Act. Oregon's total excludes separate payments from the U.S. Treasury of $114.2 million to Portland, $104.7 million to Washington County and $28.1 million to Multnomah County.

The money can be spent only on expenses related to the pandemic and the resulting shutdowns in business activity and public life. State and local governments cannot use the money to offset projected budget shortfalls.

Kotek said Congress needs to do more.

"We need Congress to step up and provide more direct support to the people and small businesses that need it most," she said. "The scale of this economic crisis is too big for Congress to not act soon."

Below is a brief summary of how the money will be spent. It won't be spent all at once, but under the federal law, all of it must be spent by Dec. 31.

Aid to individuals:

• Renters: $55 million in rental assistance, directed to households earning less than 80% of area median income, and $25 million for support of operators of "affordable" rental housing through the Department of Housing and Community Services.

• Worker relief fund: $10 million, channeled through the Oregon Community Foundation, for workers who have lost their jobs or have reduced hours because of the pandemic — and also are ineligible for unemployment benefits due to immigration status. This amount is in addition to $10 million from the emergency fund approved by the E-Board on April 23.

Republican Sens. Fred Girod of Lyons and Lynn Findley of Vale voted no.

• Survivors of domestic and sexual violence: $4 million distributed by the Department of Justice.

• Telephone help lines: $1 million for continuation of the 211 lines, which have experienced higher call volumes connecting people with services, through Dec. 31.

Department of Human Services:

• Energy assistance: $15 million through the Department of Housing and Community Services for low-income households.

• Telephone subsidies: $3.5 million through the Public Utility Commission for subsidies for 42,000 low-income households from $12.75 to $21.25 per month through Dec. 31.

• Mental health: $25.6 million through the Oregon Health Authority for various programs, including $11 million for community mental health programs, $6 million for crisis hotlines and $3.3 million for expanded outreach.

Aid to businesses:

• Technical assistance: $3 million for the Business Development Department to help obtain technical assistance for businesses owned by minorities or women, although the agency itself will not provide direct assistance.

• Small and rural hospitals: $50 million for the Business Development Department to aid these 33 Type A and B hospitals, payrolls and cash flows for those that were disrupted by a pandemic-induced halt in nonemergency surgeries and other procedures. They were allowed to resume May 1.

• Personal protective equipment: $10 million for the Business Development Department to help small businesses obtain masks, gloves and other equipment they will need for reopening.

• Child-care providers: $30 million for the Department of Education to help child-care providers meet more stringent standards, such as a limit of 10 children, as they reopen. About a third of the money will be held back for spending through Dec. 31.

• Rural broadband: $20 million for the Business Development Department to proceed with upgrading broadband networks, including $8.39 million for a Southern Oregon network (Roseburg, Medford/Ashland and Klamath Falls) and an Eastern Oregon network (The Dalles, Pendleton, La Grande, Ontario and Burns). Some money would go toward access in underserved areas.

• Protection for agricultural workers: $30 million through the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board for various programs, including housing, personal protective equipment, quarantine, sanitation and transportation.

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Link to background materials from June 5 Emergency Board meeting:

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