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Emergency Board Decisions

The Oregon Legislative Joint Emergency Board Committee met this week and approved $200 million of Federal Coronavirus Relief funds for COVID-19 response activities, programs and services.

The committee took action to support business, fishing interests, cultural events, Black relief and resiliency, workers, elections and water infrastructure on the Warm Spring Reservation.

E-Board Board members unanimously approved $35 million dollars for an emergency relief program to provide $500 to each Oregonian waiting to receive their unemployment benefits.

The Oregon Employment Department (OED) has struggled with paying unemployment benefits in the wake of the economic shutdown due to the coronavirus. Nearly 70 thousand Oregonians have been waiting for weeks or months for their benefits. The one-time relief payment will be a grant and it won’t affect other unemployment benefits. Payments would be administered by the Department of Administrative services, but it could take two months before relief checks are dispersed.

This one-time $500 relief payment can only be described as a “band aid” and is only a minor stopgap for the tens of thousands of Oregonians who have suffered financial hardship due to the OED’s inability to efficiently and effectively process claims and pay the benefits Oregonians have earned and are due. The catastrophic failure of OED at a time when hundreds of thousands of Oregonians found themselves without work through no fault of their own is unacceptable.

I have called upon the Secretary of State for a performance audit of OED operations in the effort to help the department get back on track and disperse unemployment insurance checks to the people who so desperately need financial support. https://www.thechronicleonline.com/news/looking-deeper-rep-witt-seeking-audit-of-the-oregon-employment-department/article_12f706b2-bbae-11ea-9717-67aea454df7b.html

Business assistance

The bipartisan E-Board committee members also approved more than $22.5 million in emergency business assistance. This will be financial support for small businesses with less than 25 employees who did not receive assistance under the Paycheck Protection Program or other provisions of the federal Cares Act. An additional $2.5 million will be directed to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission for support of the fisheries industry. This money will be combined with other federal appropriations for Tribal, subsistence, commercial and charter fishery participants affected by COVID-19.

Cultural organizations

Many events have been cancelled this year due to the pandemic causing our cultural organizations to suffer financially while pushing some towards bankruptcy or permanent closure. The E-Board approved funding of $50 million to support music, culture and community venues, organizations and community colleges who have had events that have been closed, cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic and the Governor’ Executive Orders.

Quarantine Time Loss

A new $30 million program will establish a Quarantine Time Loss program providing sick leave to workers that were not extended sick leave benefits under the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act. This program will span the gap for workers who did not qualify for the program’s 80 hours of paid sick leave and are required to quarantine due to contracting or being exposed to COVID-19. Beneficiaries would receive a flat, per-day payment of $120 per day of the quarantine that an employee would otherwise be scheduled to work.

The E-Board will also look to increasing the expenditure limit by $62 million for a grant to The Contingent, an organization with pre-existing state contract relationships, in partnership with the Black United Fund to be used for Black relief and resiliency.

Election security

Oregon County Clerks will receive $2.5 million in financial support to ensure the security of our elections. Oregon is already on a better footing than many states as we vote by mail. However, there are still challenges created by the pandemic. Many indoor ballot drop sites were closed during the May Primary and may be again in November. Some veteran election board workers will be unwilling to work during the pandemic due to health concerns, leaving county election offices short staffed.

CARES Act funding will make the November General Election more voter-friendly, safe, secure and efficient. CARES Act funding will allow automation of some functions, upgrades to vote tally systems, and availability of safe 24/7 ballot drop sites. Counties have identified improvements to prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus for the 2020 November election.

Finally, the committee took up and approved funding for the infrastructure improvements to the Warm Springs Indian Reservation water and wastewater systems. The water and wastewater systems need major upgrades to support the health of residents and economic growth.

During the 2019 session, the legislature authorized $7.8 million of lottery revenue bond proceeds for system improvements. Lottery revenues have declined as a result of the pandemic, and those bonds will not be issued. The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs developed a reduced request to complete the critical components of the infrastructure improve plans. These actions will provide residents with clean potable water and address federal Safe Drinking Water Act provisions.

I will continue to advocate for the needs of constituents in House District 31 as we work our way through the coronavirus pandemic, in an effort to get us back on track.

Rep. Brad Witt serves House District 31. He may be reached at:

• Telephone: 503-986-1431 • Capitol Building: 900 Court St NE, H-382, Salem, OR, 97301

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