Days after Oregon's entire congressional delegation wrote to President Donald Trump urging him to approve Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's request for federal assistance, the White House announced Sunday morning, March 29, that a "major disaster" exists in Oregon.
Trump signed off on the major disaster declaration sought by Brown, Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and Reps. Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden. That measure is intended to provide relief for Oregon as it deals with the novel coronavirus, which has swept across the United States and around the world since first being detected in humans in Wuhan, China, late last year.
Michael F. O'Hare has been named the federal coordinating officer for recovery operations as Oregon copes with the virus, which has infected hundreds of Oregonians since the first case was diagnosed in the state on Feb. 28.
The White House said Trump has ordered the federal government to provide assistance to the state government, as well as tribal and local authorities in Oregon.
Some nonprofit groups are also eligible to receive money from the federal government for "emergency protective measures," according to the White House.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said the federal government will shoulder 75% of the costs of those emergency measures, under a system known as cost-sharing. State, local and tribal partners will be on the hook for the remaining 25%.
The federal assistance is welcome relief for a state government that has swung from a revenue boom to a bleak fiscal outlook. Brown has warned that Oregon's needs far exceed its resources, as unemployment claims in the state have skyrocketed even as state economists now forecast a precipitous drop in tax and lottery revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"This declaration is an important first step towards unlocking all available federal resources for Oregon's state, tribal, and local response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I appreciate the responsiveness of Vice President (Mike) Pence and federal administration officials to our requests for aid," Brown said in a statement Sunday evening. "However, this is far from everything Oregon needs from the federal government to actively and effectively combat this crisis."
Brown pointed to the state's weeks-old request for more personal protective equipment from the national reserve, which has only been partially fulfilled, and a pending request for individual assistance, to help pay for services like child care, counseling and legal aid.
"This is an unprecedented public health crisis that demands a coordinated national response, backed by the full resources of the federal government," Brown stated. "I will continue to work with the White House and Oregon's congressional delegation to fight for access to every tool available to keep Oregonians safe from COVID-19."
As businesses lay off and furlough workers to try to get through a statewide shutdown, even some public entities have done the same. The Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District, which operates parks, swim centers and other recreational facilities throughout the Beaverton area, laid off more than 750 workers last week. The regional government Metro announced it was laying off 40% of its workforce.
As of Sunday, Oregon has reported 548 cases of COVID-19, the viral illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Thirteen deaths in Oregon so far have been linked to the disease.
Public health experts warn that there are likely many more cases in Oregon that haven't been detected due to limited testing. They also predict the caseload at Oregon hospitals may grow rapidly, potentially straining their ability to handle medical emergencies, before cases "peak" at some point in the next several weeks.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from Oregon's governor responding to the approval of the major disaster declaration.
By Mark Miller
Washington County Editor
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