Senators organize Oregon support for more federal pandemic relief
Oregon's Democratic senators hope to generate grassroots support — similar to what they mustered from five community organizations, two Democratic representatives and the mayor of Bend — to prod a handful of Republican colleagues up for re-election to pursue quick action on a new federal coronavirus relief plan.
Congress has recessed with no immediate prospect of negotiations between the Democratic-led House — which passed a $3 trillion plan back on May 15 — a Republican majority in the Senate divided over its own $1 trillion plan and President Donald Trump.
Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, who himself is up for a third term, says "America suffers while the Senate slumbers." He said he was off the mark in thinking that the parties, the two houses, and Congress and the administration would be in intensive negotiations leading to an agreement by now.
"I thought a deal would have been aired and we would be working to iron out the differences," he said Tuesday, Aug. 11, during a virtual presentation. "This goes beyond my comprehension."
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden says millions of unemployed workers have lost their extra $600-per-week unemployment benefits, small businesses have lost access to federal aid and state and local governments and schools also need assistance.
He said his hope lies in grassroots and community action that will persuade Republican senators facing re-election in swing states to press Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others. Wyden said they can take up either the House plan, known as the HEROES Act, or an expanded version of the Senate GOP plan.
"We are working with our colleagues over this recess to make sure that what we have heard about this emergency gets out," Wyden said.
"If those senators tell Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump that their constituents — the people who give them their election certificates — are not going to accept this, they are going to join people like Senator Merkley and me and produce results."
Support lined up
Eight others took part in the presentation organized by Merkley:
• U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, said Trump's recent executive order does not extend a federal moratorium on residential evictions, but simply directs federal agencies to study the issue. "Let's be clear: The time to explore options is over," he said. "It's time for Republicans to join us in taking real action to keep people safe and housed as we weather this crisis."
• U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, argued for more aid for childcare — a key service enabling people to go back to work — and sufficient support for the U.S. Postal Service to deal with greater mail volumes as more states turn to mail balloting. (Oregon has had such elections since 2000.)
"The House took decisive action in May to provide desperately needed assistance," she said. "Senator McConnell must finally put the American people first and bring the Senate back into session to pass the legislation our communities need."
• Kali Thorne Ladd, executive director, Kairos PDX: "Any stimulus package that fails to invest in education renders invisible the dreams and future of our children."
• Susannah Morgan, chief executive, Oregon Food Bank: "Communities throughout Oregon and across the country face a hundred-year flood of hunger and poverty in the wake of this pandemic. When people's lives are on the line, we can't afford inaction. When families are struggling to put food on the table, gridlock is not an option."
• DeVon Pouncey, vendor program manager with Street Roots: "We have gotten 200 people CARES Act stimulus checks, which means $240,000 has been distributed through Street Roots. I can't begin to tell you how much this has meant to many of these folks. On the flip side, now they're playing a guessing game on when the next relief will come."
• Reyna Lopez, executive director of PCUN farmworkers union: "This is urgently needed support for people who are on the front lines of this pandemic. The fact that basic relief hasn't been passed is devastating our communities in Oregon and across the nation."
• Don Gentry, chairman of the Klamath Tribes: "As it is well known, our people, even before the pandemic, have suffered many problems due to failed policies and actions against us. Now, the Senate has an opportunity to move forward and do something to continue the vital support of the CARES Act. The assistance we're receiving now is just enough to help people keep their heads above water — barely."
• Bend Mayor Sally Russell: "Our business community has explained loudly and clearly that small business assistance is critical to their survival. We need more childcare assistance. We've lost 40% of our local childcare slots, which makes it hard for people to work. We also need more unemployment assistance. The Oregon Employment Department does not have the ability to serve those who have lost their jobs. We need direct federal stimulus dollars to laid-off workers so people can pay their bills."
Counties chime in
Other organizations and individuals lent their support to the senators' effort although they were not part of Tuesday's presentation.
Kathryn Harrington, Washington County board chairwoman, said: "As Congress negotiates, we urge them to ensure that local governments of all sizes have access to additional direct, flexible funding to fight this pandemic, rebuild the economy and strengthen our communities in an equitable and responsible manner. We urge members of the House and Senate to oppose any agreement that does not invest in local governments,"
Jim Bernard, Clackamas County board chairman, said: "This pandemic has devastated communities and economies. CARES Act funding is slated to end in December. After that, the cost to fight this disease and save lives is on the shoulders of local governments. We're not looking for a bailout. We're looking for a lifeline."
For a link to the video presentation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley:
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