One Late Night, One Slashed Budget
On Monday I returned to the State Capitol for our second Special Session this year. This session provided us an opportunity to make progress on some of the biggest issues affecting Oregonians right now. The focus was to reduce state spending in response to declines in revenue, and to make changes in employment laws to expedite processing of overdue unemployment claims. We gaveled in at eight in the morning, and adjourned just before midnight. Cutting budgets and services is always difficult and the one day gathering seemed about a week long.
While the COVID-19 pandemic meant we had to tighten the state’s belt, we protected the critical services that families need most: education, health care, and the safety of our communities. That work was driven by a core set of values—equity, compassion, fairness—that prioritized the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors.
More than $50 million was allocated to build desperately needed affordable housing, and more than $30 million for critical water infrastructure projects around the state;We passed legislation to improve access to unemployment benefits and streamline the process for the countless Oregonians still waiting.
Special sessions are always compressed and intended to address immediate concerns. That means they move quickly. And in this case virtual meetings, social distancing, and limited testimony added to an eerie atmosphere in a Capitol closed to the public. We received details of proposals on Saturday which were scheduled for a vote Monday. We got the work done. But it was not representative democracy at its best.
One example was SB 1703. The measure was intended to share identification and income information from the Department of Revenue with the Employment Department in order to more quickly address the backlog of unemployment claims. But as originally written, the bill would allow this governor or any future governor to release tax information to any state or federal agency during this emergency or any future emergency.
Oregonians are properly protective of their identification and income information! I thought the goal of the bill was good. But I also thought that language was far too broad. And I worried about information security in any state agency.
Monday morning I asked for amendments that limited the information sharing to the Employment Department and specified that the authority ended when this emergency ends or in six months – whichever comes first. The amendments were adopted before lunch and the improved measure was approved.
The Oregonian’s reporting of the special session can be found here.
Thanks to years of responsible budgeting, Oregon was the most prepared it has ever been for a recession and among the best prepared states in the country. We have saved about $1.5 billion in reserve funds to help stabilize our schools and other critical services during an economic downturn.
While we are doing all we can to protect Oregon families and ensure our state’s economy recovers, our state cannot spend more than we receive and is required to have a balanced budget every biennium. We must look to the federal government to provide additional financial support for the state and local governments.
Masks or Shields Revisited
My newsletter last week generated more mail than any in recent memory when I raised the question of masks or face shields. Thanks for all your feedback and questions! To get some more information, I reached out to the Oregon Health Authority for advice. Here’s what they said:
The requirement to wear a “mask” in public places actually allows for masks, face coverings, or face shields. OHA’s guidance defines them as:
“Mask” means a medical grade mask
“Face covering” means a cloth, paper, or disposable face covering that covers the nose and the mouth.
“Face shield” means a clear plastic shield that covers the forehead, extends below the chin, and wraps around the sides of the face.
All of them are effective in reducing transmission of COVID-19 if worn properly, and should be worn in conjunction with other protective measures such as maintaining physical distancing. Note that a face shield needs to cover and wrap around the entire face, not just the nose and mouth, because it does not fit as snugly as a face covering. More answers to frequently asked questions are available here.
Several readers voiced concerns last week that masks are not as effective as shields since there is growing evidence of aerosol COVID-19 transmission. My hope is that everyone covers their face when in public to the best degree possible.
Celebrating National Health Center Week
Monday kicked off National Health Center Week, a celebration of how Community Health Centers help people overcome barriers to care, like location, income, and insurance. Lincoln Community Health Center has served Lincoln Country for 14 years with eight locations in Lincoln City, Newport, Toledo, and Waldport. Tillamook County has Community Health Centers in the city of Tillamook and Rockaway Beach. The Willamina Health Center serves the communities of Sheridan, Willamina, and Grand Ronde.
These locations provide primary care and behavioral health services to our friends, neighbors, families, and students. The best part is that payment is not a factor for whether or not you’ll be seen. Health centers see patients with private insurance, no insurance, Medicare and Medicaid – basically anyone who needs care!
Please join me in thanking the healthcare heroes working in our centers in Lincoln, Tillamook, and Yamhill counties this week.
I spent much of the last week meeting with local leaders on the issue of child care. As parents return to work and our teachers prepare for distance learning in the Fall, I’m hearing from many about the increased need for someone to watch our kids. The same goes for our healthcare workers, our emergency professionals, and our main street businesses facing the choice between returning to work and caring for their children.
This Emergency Child Care Dashboard from the Early Learning Division of the Oregon Department of Education shows just how serious the child care situation is here in House District 10.
I’m continuing to fight for more funding for these crucial providers that enable the rest of our economy to proceed. I’m also working with local providers to identify facilities that may be able to be converted for child care use. Applying to open a small child care business is now easier than ever.
I’ve been encouraged by the many emails coming in asking how we as community members can help our working heroes. If you are in a position to provide emergency child care, please look over the application from the Early Learning Division and consider applying. If you are in need of emergency child care, please call 211 or visit 211info.org to be connected to available resources.
It takes all of us coming together more than ever to raise our children through a pandemic.
Dollars in the District
Small rural Oregon hospitals have help on the way, with $50 million in grant funding coming from Business Oregon. Awards will help keep nurses and doctors employed amid increased costs and dropping revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the 20 hospitals receiving these funds are Samaritan North Lincoln Hospital in Lincoln City ($3,453,751) and Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital in Newport ($4,635,959).
Business Oregon has also released the latest of the state’s COVID-19 relief efforts, investing in broadband access across Oregon, in mostly rural communities. The Oregon Legislature and Governor Kate Brown allocated $10,000,000 from the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund to broadband projects targeting unserved and underserved areas of the state. Tillamook County will receive $349,800.
Are you an Oregon fishery in need of federal assistance? The application period for Oregon fishing business seeking relief for COVID-19 impacts is now open. Follow this link to learn more about whether you qualify, and how to submit an application before the deadline of September 8, 2020.
Let me close this week with another example of people doing good work to help our communities. This summer, the B’nai B’rith Camp has served over 20,000 free meals (breakfast and lunch) to food-insecure and hungry children in Lincoln County through the USDA Summer Food Services Program on the BB Camp campus on Devils Lake in North Lincoln County and at off-site locations.
Thanks to everyone who is helping support kids, families, and retirees in need during these challenging times.
Representative David Gomberg
House District 10
address: 900 Court St NE, H-471, Salem, OR, 97301