Oregon lawmakers are poised to approve $250 million for summer school programs, plus money for wildfire recovery and a shift of some marijuana taxes to addiction recovery centers under a voter-approved ballot measure.
All of these changes, and more, are attached to budget-rebalancing legislation that cleared the Legislature's joint budget committee on Friday, March 19, and headed to votes of the House and Senate in the coming week. This legislation is usually routine before the two-year state budget cycle closes on June 30.
"But this is an unusual reconciliation bill with a lot of worthwhile items added," Rep. David Gomberg, D-Otis, said.
Gov. Kate Brown and legislative leaders of both parties have endorsed the summer program spending, some of which will be matched by school districts from federal pandemic aid they will receive separately.
The only committee vote against the package was cast by Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River.
Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, described the school money as "an historic investment in summer enrichment programs."
Included in that package are these programs:
• For high school students behind on their credits for the past two academic years because of the coronavirus pandemic, $71.9 million, with school districts putting up a 25% match from federal pandemic aid they will get separately. Districts qualify for money if half of high school students participate.
• For students from kindergarten through fifth grade, $93.7 million, with school districts putting up a 25% match, for academic or other enrichment programs. Districts will get money based on the distribution formula for regular state aid, but more weight will be given to students at the poverty level. Assuming a cost of $1,800 per student, the state estimates that up to 70,000 children could benefit.
• For child care, $30 million, plus $10 million in federal funds.
• For preschool programs, $12 million. plus $11.2 million in federal funds, for one-time activities this summer.
• For summer recreation activities, $40 million that the Oregon Community Foundation will award in grants to public agencies and nonprofit groups, such as the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs.
• For parents whose children have disabilities, suffer from trauma or are at risk of placement into the child welfare system, $1.2 million. The state estimates this program could support about 600 parents.
Money not spent by Jan. 1 will return to state coffers.
Among the other items in the budget reconciliation bill (HB 5042):
• $600 million received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, mostly for costs from the Labor Day wildfires that swept through the state, and other disasters declared by the president.
• $3.7 million in grants to 11 local governments, including $220,000 to the city of Estacada, for repair of wildfire damage.
• $20 million in grants to seven local governments for navigation centers that help people find housing and other services.
• $20 million from marijuana sales taxes during this budget cycle to fund current addiction treatment and recovery services, while allowing work to proceed on new recovery centers that Oregon voters approved in Measure 110 last year. (A separate story will explain those changes.)
• $2.9 million to the Oregon Food Bank to enable it emergency food purchases. The food bank and its network of 20 regional banks received $2.9 million in December to cover emergency purchases for the first three months of this year.
The committee did take back about $200 million that was left unspent by the Emergency Board, the group of 20 lawmakers who make budget decisions between sessions of the full Legislature. A Dec. 21 special session gave the board $800 million, drawn from the state's projected ending balance, to pay costs resulting from the Labor Day wildfires and the coronavirus pandemic. The board, which met three days before the 2021 Legislature opens on Jan. 11, cannot operate when the Legislature is in session.
Although the Labor Day wildfires were widespread, the most devastating stretch occurred in Talent and Phoenix in Southern Oregon. The Almeda fire destroyed the largest single concentration of housing — much of it inhabited by low-wage workers and older people — and left thousands homeless who cannot find or afford other housing.
About $660,000 went to the Jackson County Housing Authority and the cities of Talent and Phoenix.
"It shows there are some needs that just can't wait," Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, said. He leads a Senate committee that, with its House counterpart, is focused on wildfire recovery.
Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, one of the budget committee co-leaders, described the $3.7 million as a "down payment" and said the committee is awaiting recommendations from the two wildfire panels on next steps.
Gomberg said there is more to do. He represents a central coast district that suffered wildfire damage.
"Seven months into the recovery process, in too many communities, recovery is not yet occurring. Too many of these folks are starting to feel forgotten," he said. "This is an important step in reminding them that we do care, we hear them and we are looking to help them with the recovery process."
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated with a description of what lawmakers propose to implement Measure 110.
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