By Representative David Gomberg, House District 10
Early this week we remembered Pearl Harbor. It was a day that changed America. Over 2,400 soldiers and sailors lost their lives. Every day this week, across the United States, more than 2,400 people died from COVID. The pandemic, and how we respond and recover, will also affect life as we know it.
Last week I wrote about how constant rule changes were making life more difficult and confusing. No sooner had I hit “send” on the newsletter when the rules changed again. Counties ranked as Low Risk shifted to Moderate, and Moderate Risk counties elevated to the High Risk category. More changes may be announced next week. Eventually, Oregon counties that reduce their COVID-19 risk level will be able to incrementally move to lower assessment levels. This will bring with it more relaxed rules and guidelines.
Most of Oregon is currently under the “Extreme Risk” category:
- Indoor restaurant dining is prohibited
- Retail stores will be limited to 50% of capacity
- Indoor faith gatherings are restricted to 25% capacity or 100 total
- Social gatherings are restricted to 6 people, with a recommended limit of 2 households
Comprehensive Guidance on Activities are available here.
I know the changes are hard to keep track of, but as public health experts, scientists, and medical professionals continue to learn more about how this virus spreads. Their recommendations evolve so that we can better protect ourselves and our communities. Please continue to wash your hands, wear a mask and practice physical distancing. Each of us has a stake in reducing our local rankings.
New Grants Available for Restaurants and Small Business
Licensed restaurants and small businesses can now apply for grants to offset the cost of restrictions from COVID-19. The funds are part of $55 million in business assistance grants that will be administered by Oregon counties to help small businesses.
This is not a first-come, first-served application. But the application period is limited. If your business is interested, please don’t delay! Qualifications and processes vary by county.
Applications may well exceed available resources, so not all applicants can be guaranteed a grant. As with every grant opportunity we’ve seen during the pandemic, managing expectations is just as important as managing the application and disbursal process.
Governor’s Recommended Budget
Governor Brown has announced a new two-year budget she said is intended to help the state weather the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, recover from catastrophic wildfires and tackle systemic racism and inequities. The proposal would largely protect Oregon’s biggest budget item: the state school fund.
This is a limited budget. Over the past few years, state budgets have typically grown by 13% to 15% per biennium. At $25.6 billion, the 2021-2023 budget proposal would be an 8% increase from two years ago.
The Governor’s proposals are the first step of the budget process. Once presented, they are reviewed by legislative fiscal leadership and then subjected to public comment and scrutiny in Ways and Means sub-committees. A final document is approved by the full Ways and Means committee. We are a long way from a finalized budget.
You can read more about the proposed budget here.
Some interesting points from the proposal include:
- $252 million in funding for COVID-19 testing and health services over the next six months and an additional $433 million for July-December, 2021.
- $350 million for rent forgiveness and targeted mortgage relief. This includes relief to landlords and renters, and support for homeowners who struggle with mortgage payments.
- Additional $600 payments in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Insurance to stabilize workers who will be laid off during COVID-19 closures this winter.
- $73.7 million in additional money for fire preparedness, and nearly $360 million for cleaning up and rebuilding communities impacted by this year’s wildfires.
- $146.4 million to “fully modernize the employment department’s delivery system” and implement a Paid Family Leave Insurance system.
- $118 million for broadband expansion in both urban and rural communities
We’re caught between a decline in available revenue, and increased costs for COVID, rebuilding the economy, and wildfire recovery. Meeting these needs will require a significant federal relief bill. Unlike the national government, Oregon must balance its budget, which is why federal support is so critical for meeting needs during this unprecedented moment.
Significantly, Governor Brown wants to resurrect more than 30 projects costing over $200 million that died last summer when the state lottery bond market collapsed during business shutdowns ordered to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes critical funding for the Newport dams ($4.1m), Oregon Coast Aquarium ($5m), and Lincoln City Cultural Center ($1.5m).
I recently read a guest opinion in the Portland Business Journal by former Governor John Kitzhaber, portions of which I wanted to share with you (below).
As Covid cases continue to climb, Oregon hospitals may be pushed beyond their capacity, raising the specter that there may not be enough hospital beds — particularly ICU beds — to accommodate all those who need critical care, whether that need is from a coronavirus infection, or a heart attack or some other cause.
This dangerous trend makes it more essential than ever for our citizens to do their part in slowing the spread of this deadly virus through the use of masks and social distancing measures. While the state has done a good job conveying this message, official government communications alone may not be enough. Trust in government is at an all-time low. This problem has been exacerbated by the unfortunate politicization of public health during the recent national election cycle and the resistance in parts of our society to being “told what to do” by government.
There are other, perhaps more effective, messengers that have not yet been fully mobilized — the trusted local leaders, whose voices may carry more weight than directives from the state. I am referring particularly to leaders in the BIPOC community. I am referring to leaders in the network of community-based problem-solving and delivery structures we have established over the years, including watershed councils, early learning hubs and coordinated care organizations. I am referring to religious leaders, business, labor and civic leaders, Rotary clubs, 4H clubs, chambers of commerce and philanthropic organizations.
Expanding the capacity and reach of state led efforts by engaging trusted local leaders is essential, and will not only help combat the current surge in Covid-19 infections, but will help ensure that as many Oregonians as possible take the vaccine once it becomes available. Oregon currently ranks 45th among the 50 states in terms of the percentage of our population that is vaccinated.
This is an all-hands-on deck moment driven by an urgency that cannot be overstated. Engaging trusted local leaders in common cause will not only help address this public health crisis, it can begin to address the systemic disparities in our health care system, and offer a path to bring us back together and start the long process of repairing the tattered fabric of the Oregon community.
– John Kitzhaber M.D.
Happy Holidays !
The Holiday Season has arrived. Whatever you celebrate, please do so with love, joy, and gusto. Difficult times often bring out the best in people. Take time to remember all the gifts we have to be grateful for. Light candles, decorate trees, worship as you wish, and please remember to shop local.