Leaders of Clackamas County and more than a dozen other counties and cities joined in issuing a letter Tuesday calling for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to direct a portion of the $1.6 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funding to local governments representing less than 500,000 people.
The letter points out that guidance for $150 billion in funding made available by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security (CARES) Act was only provided for larger population areas and leaves disbursement of relief dollars up to state governors. All Oregon cities and counties besides Portland, Multnomah and Washington counties are below the population threshold.
"Oregon's cities and counties are also on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis," the letter states. "At this moment, so much more is being demanded of our first responders, and other vital local government services are stretched razor thin."
With expenses growing fast and revenues declining just as quick, many of these local governments are feeling the impacts of this global pandemic and beginning to adjust budgets and having to cut nonessential services. The letter asserts that local governments need to receive a portion of the $1.6 billion to reduce layoffs to lower the strain on the unemployment insurance system and help sustain local economies now and into the future.
Martha Schrader, Clackamas County commissioner, said that it's important for local jurisdictions to have access to these funds because the county is really the provider of all of the biggest safety-net programs that are helping citizens through these tough times, and to much a larger degree these days on issues such as food insecurity, housing, mental health and more.
"We are the service-delivery provider for a lot of things that cities don't offer," she said.
One example of those growing services provided is that the county's caseload for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) grew by 87 participants from February to March. Between March 2 and April 1, the county processed 191 first-time certifications for food assistance programs.
Clackamas County is joined by the cities of Bend, Hillsboro, Coos Bay, Wilsonville, Medford, Pendleton, Millersburg, Happy Valley, Springfield, Eugene, Hermiston, Sherwood and Gresham, as well as Lane and Deschutes counties in penning the letter to Brown.
Being the fourth-largest jurisdiction in the state, Clackamas County has a lot at risk in responding to the outbreak of novel coronavirus.
"Local governments are on the front lines responding to this crisis, but we haven't received funding to do so," said Clackamas County Chair Jim Bernard. "We have spent a tremendous amount of staff hours responding to this crisis, and that's not going away any time soon."
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