Wages Going Up, Checks in the Mail, and Concerns About Our Supreme Court
Dear Neighbors and Friends,
Last Friday, the US Supreme Court drove a wedge deep into the divide that has plagued our nation all too much in recent years.
I often write in these reports that we need to seek and focus on common ground. But actions at the national level are exacerbating our differences.
In overturning the 50 year old ruling that gave women the right to reproductive choices including abortion, the court also signaled interest in overturning rulings protecting same-sex marriage, gay sex and the use of contraceptives. Justice Thomas stated, “in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents.”
Because reproductive health access in Oregon is governed by laws enacted by our state legislature, rather than by a court’s interpretation of the state constitution, a sudden change to those policies is unlikely. Oregon state law, updated in 2017, allows for late-term abortion, requires private medical insurance and state Medicaid to cover abortion, and codifies the right to gender-affirming care, among other protections.
Still, the landmark decision issued Friday in Washington, D.C., will affect Oregon. Abortion rates in this state have been falling for 30 years. Now they will increase. Reproductive health care providers have been preparing for months for an influx of patients from states, including neighboring Idaho, where doctors will face prison time for providing abortions. The Guttmacher Institute has estimated that Oregon will experience a 234% increase in those seeking abortions arriving from out of state, especially from Idaho.
A majority of Americans, and more than 2/3 of Oregonians believe these most personal decisions regarding health and reproduction should be made by a woman – in consultation with her family, physician, or faith advisors as appropriate – and not by politicians. On Saturday morning, I joined a small group in Newport waving signs on the sidewalk near City Hall. The reaction of people driving by, honking their agreement or gesturing in defiance, reflected those statistics.
I left the event, saddened by the divide but proud as ever to be an Oregonian.
More than 236,000 Oregon families will be receiving a $600 payment this week under a new state law that aimed to aid low-income workers.
Direct deposits or paper checks are going to people who lived in Oregon for the last six months of 2020 and claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a tax break for low-income workers, on their 2020 taxes. Single people who claimed the credit earned less than $16,000, while married couples with three or more children earned less than $57,000.
More than 136,000 Oregon taxpayers will see $600 deposited in their bank accounts before July 1, while more than 99,000 more will find paper checks in their mailboxes over the next week. They’ll also receive letters explaining the payment.
When this proposal was debated earlier this year, I said that the program was imperfect because it focused on families that qualified and needed help two years ago and not today. Two years ago was a lifetime ago, I said. Two years ago we had some of the highest unemployment in the state in our district and now there are jobs for anyone who wants one. Wages for those jobs are higher than ever. And of course, inflation now is changing lives and incomes dramatically. I worry for families in need now who will not qualify because they were not in as much need two years ago. And I worry for residents like seniors on fixed incomes who did not qualify for EITC and so won’t receive the payment.
But at the same time, we have to acknowledge that most people hurting two years ago are still hurting. And we have to acknowledge the shocking number of people here in our own local district who qualify for low-income support. Fourteen percent of the workers in House District 10 will receive this payment. That’s one in seven. And so while the measure was not perfect, it certainly would help in some small way, a lot of people here.
Residents of rural counties will receive these payments at roughly twice the rate of our urban counties. The measure passed 41-16 with bipartisan support. You can watch my comments during debate here.
Starting July 1st, minimum wage workers in Oregon will see an increase in pay.
In 2016, Oregon lawmakers created a three-tiered minimum wage. Employers will pay more in larger cities and less in rural communities. That means while minimum wage workers will see a new rate of $13.50 an hour across our district, employees in the Portland area will get an increase to $14.75. Those are both increases of 75 cents per hour. Meanwhile, the minimum wage in the most rural parts of the state will jump by 50 cents to $12.50 an hour.
The Oregon Employment Department says roughly five percent of Oregon’s hourly workers earn the minimum wage. Oregon’s rate remains among the highest minimum wages in the nation. But what we know across our own part of Oregon is that most wages are running well ahead of the statutory minimum. The question for most employers or employees is whether changes in the minimum will translate into adjustments for all workers.
I often make reference to the state boards and commissions I serve on: the Ocean Science Trust, Commission on Senior Services, Seismic Policy Advisory Commission, and Innovation Council. Perhaps you would like to serve on a state advisory board too.
There are currently 150 boards and commissions that are actively recruiting new members including two new councils – the Emergency Preparedness Advisory Council and the Local Government Emergency Management Advisory Council – both of which were created in 2021 with our emergency management reorganization bill.
The list ranges from Accountancy or Alcohol and Drug Policy to the Wine Board and Youth Development. You can play a role in Boiler Rules, Mortuaries and Cemeteries, Motorcycle Safety, or Truth in Labeling. Or perhaps you are interested in Ocean Policy, the Ethics Commission who oversee public officials, Home or Residential Care of seniors in assisted living, or the Transportation Commission who prioritize highway work across Oregon.
A full list of boards and commissions with one or more vacancies is available here. Public members of the boards and commissions are people who may not have regular, ongoing experience in a specific topic area, but a general interest in a particular board or commission’s work arena.
These public bodies usually offer an in-person or virtual meeting option. In most cases, per diem is available to compensate volunteers for travel or time away from work. To submit an application, please visit the state boards and commissions website and follow the instructions to apply. Read more about the process here.
As summer approaches and temperatures rise, please remember that algae blooms can form on bodies of water in hot weather.
Some blooms can cause serious illness or death in pets, livestock and wildlife. These toxins can also make people sick and sometimes cause rashes or irritation. Not all blooms are harmful but you can’t tell if an algae is toxic just by looking at it.
Don’t go into water that looks foamy, scummy, thick like paint, pea-green, blue-green or brownish red. A good rule of thumb for you and your pet is: when in doubt, stay out!
While many popular water bodies in Oregon have health advisories issued when a blue-green algal bloom is discovered, there is no regulatory requirement to issue health advisories for contaminated water. The best thing you can do is learn what to look for. You can do that online here.
Take three minutes this week and check to see if the state is holding money for you that you didn’t know existed or forgot to claim.
Every year, companies, nonprofits, and government agencies across the state are required to report and remit unclaimed property to the Oregon State Treasury. This includes things like uncashed checks, unreturned deposits, forgotten bank accounts, and abandoned safe deposit boxes.
Last year, the Oregon State Treasury launched a new website to help return unclaimed property to Oregonians across the state. Since the program launched, more than $13.3 million has been returned to nearly 11,000 claimants.
If you’d like to check to see if you have unclaimed property, visit unclaimed.oregon.gov, search for your name, and select “Claim.” One of my office staff was surprised to find they had a $75 rebate check they didn’t know about, so you never know what you might find!
It was a typical Saturday in the District. I started with a trip to Newport where, as I mentioned above, I joined the Women’s Rights gathering at City Hall. I then crossed the street to visit the Farmer’s Market with a shopping list from Susan. From Newport, I traveled to Siletz for the Fire Hall open house. Since the events of 2020 Labor Day, fire response has become very personal to me. I wanted to stop to support and celebrate those remarkable local first responders who run toward danger when the rest of us are running away.
From Siletz, I came back to Lincoln City for the PRIDE gathering at the Cultural Center, dropped by the kite festival (Susie and I were not performing this year), and then went back to Newport for a fundraiser for youth programs at the Yacht Club that included a brief but delightful sail around the bay.
We finished out the long day on our deck, enjoying the sultry weather and clear sky with Chinook Winds fireworks in the distant background.
Monday (today) I’m focused on a three public meetings regarding the proposed Amazon cable landing near Pacific City. (See last week’s report for details). The last meeting runs from 4-6 pm at the Kiwanda Community Center.
Tuesday I’ll be on the air with KBCH and KTIL radio in the morning, and then presenting to the legislative Disaster Recovery Authority Work Group meeting. At noon I speak to the Association of Counties and League of Cities about broadband – or the lack thereof – on the Coast.
Wednesday I’m visiting Camp Westwind at the mouth of the Salmon River. Thursday and Friday are filled with individual meetings and a ribbon cutting at Fishing Rock Eatery in Depoe Bay. Saturday is the opening of Art, Oysters, and Brew in Toledo. And Sunday, I’ll be at a fundraiser for our Newport Symphony at the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center. That takes us to July 4th which is packed with a parade in Yachats, a public symphony in Newport, and fireworks over the Bay.
Please enjoy safely our national independence. All that we have, we value, and we sustain is well worth celebrating.