The legislative Emergency Board continued to distribute $250 million in federal Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) monies amid intensifying partisan hostility. Funding was authorized for renter assistance, behavioral services, rural hospital stabilization, rural broadband expansion, childcare provider assistance and support for agricultural workers and growers.
Before the Friday E-Board session that was called with barely 24 hours’ notice, House Republican Leader Christine Drazan chastised Democratic legislative leaders for lack of transparency and bipartisan consultation on CRF decisions. Drazan questioned allocating large sums of money to state agencies without adequate legislative oversight.
During the E-Board meeting, lawmakers discussed the future impact of increased staffing now to address the COVID-19 pandemic on future state budgets, especially in light of projected billion-dollar revenue shortfalls in the current and subsequent biennia.
The E-Board approved without controversy $50 million in funding for rural Type A and Type B hospitals, which had been shelved at a previous session. After negotiations, legislative leaders agreed to offer grants instead of loans.
Small businesses and cultural entities didn’t fare as well Friday, as lawmakers tabled $25 million in grants for small businesses and $50 million for cultural entities such as independent entertainment venues. House Speaker Tina Kotek indicated conversations are continuing on both grant programs, with the expectation of action at a future E-Board meeting.
Here are some of the topline highlights of E-Board funding actions:
- $75 million for rental assistance to landlords on behalf of Oregonians who were unable to pay rent because of layoffs or reduced hours and for operating aid to affordable rental housing under contract with Oregon Housing and Community Services.
- $25.63 million for a variety of behavioral health services for individuals disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, including $11 million for community mental health and telehealth programs.
- $30 million to assist childcare providers reopen and undertake initiatives developed by the Early Learning Division.
- $20 million for the Rural Broadband Capacity Program to expand capacity in schools, businesses and healthcare providers.
- $49 million for agricultural worker and grower protections.
- $15 million for energy and utility payments for Oregonians impacted by COVID-19 circumstances.
- $10 million to help small business obtain personal protective equipment.
- $10 million grant to the Oregon Community Foundation to oversee culturally specific, community-based payments to unemployed workers ineligible for wage replacement from traditional unemployment insurance.
- $4 million for victims of domestic and sexual violence.
- $3.5 million to expand access temporarily to affordable telephone and broadband service for low-income households.
- $3 million to establish a grant program to provide technical assistance to minority- and woman-owned businesses affected by the pandemic.
Dale Penn II is a partner and leader of the CFM’s state affairs team. He has been deeply involved in government relations and regulatory affairs in Oregon for more than 15 years and is an advocacy leader in the fields of health care, transportation, human services and general business.