(TNS) — A bipartisan committee of the Oregon Legislature agreed Friday on how to carve up $247 million in federal coronavirus relief to help Oregon renters, workers, business owners and others hit hard by the pandemic.
Lawmakers spent 2 hours questioning and criticizing some aspects of the plan, but ultimately cast unanimous votes in favor of all aspects of the plan except paying wage replacement to undocumented workers laid off amid the COVID-19 scare.
The largest single element of the package is $55 million that will be paid to landlords who rent to low-income Oregonians who’ve lost wages because of the virus. That money will be doled out through local community action agencies, just like the $12 million in state funding already allocated for that purpose.
The next largest chunk is $50 million in grants to help certain small rural hospitals that saw their patient load – and income – plummet after Gov. Kate Brown ordered them to delay non-essential surgeries and other care and Oregonians became reluctant to see medical help.
The Emergency Board, composed of 13 Democrats and seven Republicans, had stalemated in April over plans to give those same hospitals millions in zero-interest loans. At least one Democrat joined many Republican members in arguing the hospitals could not take on more debt and should receive outright grants.
So the panel’s co-chairs, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, came up with the new proposal which awards $50 million in grants to 33 rural hospitals for corona-virus related costs they incur in 2020.
Other large items in the spending package include:
- $30 million in small grants to help care providers to stay open as the economy recovers or to reopen if they have closed. Under Phase 2 reopening, providers still cannot care for more than 10 children in a room.
- $30 million to protect agricultural workers during the pandemic. The money will be used to cover employers’ costs to provide housing with greater sanitation and more distancing, equip fields with more hand-washing stations and transport workers in vans and busses with room for them to remain many feet apart. Another large chunk will be used to replace the wages of workers who have to quarantine after catching or being exposed to the virus. And some will provide workers with personal protective equipment.
- $25.6 million for additional mental health services, with a particular emphasis on providing more culturally and linguistically appropriate services, such as outreach to communities of color, tribes, and vulnerable populations.
- $20 million to expand rural broadband to help workers and students who are working or learning from home and need robust internet access. The upgrades would focus on improving connectivity in and near Roseburg, Medford, Ashland, Klamath Falls, The Dalles, Pendleton, La Grande, Ontario and Burns.
- $10 million to help small businesses buy personal protective equipment for their workers.
Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, ultimately voted for the plan to give businesses money to buy the protective gear. But first she explained her strong preference that the state use its larger buying power to secure the gear for them rather than leave them to shop on their own.
“We’re leaving them naked in a shark-infested marketplace,” she said.
In a statement Friday evening, Kotek praised lawmakers’ choices but called on Congress to give states even more money.
“We sent meaningful support to renters, families with young children, and workers in need,” she said. “But we have a lot more to do.”
©2020 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.