NEWS UPDATE FROM STATE REPRESENTATIVE DAVID GOMBERG: Some Things that May Surprise You and Some that Won’t

By Representative David Gomberg, House District 10

Dear Neighbors and Friends,

Late last week I met with Mike Fong, the new Pacific Northwest Regional Administrator for the Small Business Administration. He asked me to summarize our economic situation here at the Coast.

I told him that across Oregon and even here at the beach, we have recovered most of the jobs lost during the pandemic. Oregon has regained 94% of jobs lost since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data from the Employment Department. But we still have help wanted signs everywhere. Hiring has been tough — with 84% of employers reporting difficulty filling positions.

What sense does that make?? More people are working and we still don’t have enough employees? One answer is in what I described as a seismic shift in our employment paradigms. Nearly one in three Oregonians reported a change in employment status during the pandemic, creating the “greatest disruption to the workforce since World War II”.

Increasingly, people are working from home. Before the pandemic, only about 6% of the American workforce worked from home, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Now that number is 11%, according to the survey. People are starting new entrepreneurial ventures. People are staying home to care for kids because they can’t find or can’t afford childcare. At the same time, we have actually created more jobs.

Hardest hit is the hospitality sector because it has the lowest average starting wages, offers fewer full-time positions and tends to employ younger workers who have higher turnover rates. Restaurants reduce open hours. Hotels limit guests. Retail stores provide less help and therefore less customer service. And as a result, our small business owners are having problems meeting their full potential.

Another challenge affecting our potential – increasingly employers report staff are not “fully proficient.” Most said the biggest reasons were a lack of occupational and soft skills. More than 80% of employers surveyed say they struggle to find applicants with qualifications to fill their positions.

I told Director Fong that we continue to face challenges with housing and childcare. We are building more workforce and affordable housing, but not as much as we need and it doesn’t get built overnight.

He spoke about the dollars coming from the Federal government to help address problems in Oregon. I said too often those funds land proportionately in our population centers and large cities, and not often enough in rural communities with disproportionate needs.

I thanked Mike for the meeting and appreciate the many local business and local government leaders present who offered similar observations.

David with SBA Director Mike Fong

Meeting with Oregon/Washington/Idaho/Alaska SBA Director Mike Fong

Friday I joined a delightful banquet organized by the remarkable Newport Fisherman’s Wives.

The occasion was the annual Homeport Dinner and to celebrate our local fishing industry and the people that are working hard to make it more successful and resilient. Honored were:

  • Heather Mann, the Executive Director of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative
  • Nancy Fitzpatrick, former executive director of the Oregon Salmon Commission and the Oregon Albacore Commission
  • Hugh Link, Executive Director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission
  • Flaxen Conway, a professor of Sociology at OSU and an Extension Specialist with Oregon Sea Grant
  • Gino Law, for his work on the Dungeness Crab Commission, Salmon Species Committee, and 50 years as a local commercial fisherman

The Newport Fishermen’s Wives is a non-profit corporation of fishermen’s wives, mothers, daughters, and friends, supporting a strong sense of community helping to further the causes of industry, safety, seafood education, and family support.

Newport Fishermans Wives Banquet

Here is some news that will not surprise you. Oregonians are increasingly paying a bigger share of their income for health care, the latest state report on health care costs shows. Oregonians saw an increase of nearly 50% in health care costs between 2013 and 2019. That’s an average of nearly 7% a year.

This is particularly significant news here in a district where 30% of the population is over age 65.

According to the report, those on Medicare saw the biggest health care increases – nearly 60% between 2013 and 2019 – while those on commercial plans saw a 45% increase. Medicaid, which is managed in Oregon by regional insurers called coordinated care organizations, had the lowest increases over those seven years at just over 30%.

Cumulative growth in per person health care costs, by market

Health care costs are growing faster than wages and the economy, the report showed. It also noted that many people are struggling with out-of-pocket costs and have delayed care because of that.

Prescription pharmaceutical costs grew the most of any service category. Drug costs rose 185% over the six-year period for patients on Medicare to more than $2,200 per person, annually. Prescription drug costs rose 92.8% for people with commercial insurance and 79.4% for those on Medicaid.

Last year, the Oregon Legislature considered a proposal to set upper limits on how much companies could charge for prescription drugs. Work will continue on that proposal. Lawmakers did pass a bipartisan law to limit patients’ copays for insulin to $900 a year.

Two-thirds of people who file for bankruptcy cite medical issues as a key contributor to their financial downfall. Earlier this year, OSPIRG released a new report on medical costs and bankruptcy in Oregon. The report examines bankruptcy filings from 2019 and finds that 60% of filers reported medical debt. With a total of $30 million in medical debt reported in these filings, it is clear that we need to take action to lower the cost of health care.

As I reported two weeks ago, the legislature has presented an amendment to the Oregon Constitution establishing a right to “cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable health care” for every Oregon resident. The amendment would require the state to balance the obligation of ensuring a right to healthcare against funding public schools and other essential public services. Read more here.

And finally, here is some good news on health costs. Starting Friday, the three largest credit bureaus are overhauling how medical debt affects your credit score and automatically removing a significant portion of medical debt that plagues the credit reports. Medical collections debt that you’ve already paid off or has been forgiven should no longer appear on those reports. Essentially, if you have or had medical debt, your score should be improving.

And now something that may surprise you.

With the passage of House Bill 2574 last session, Oregon has now approved composting as an alternative to burial or cremation for dealing with human remains. The technology allows a body to naturally decompose and transform into soil over a 30-day period. But there are no licensed human composting facilities in Oregon, and the state has yet to receive its first license application, according to the Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board.

Human composting — or natural organic reduction — has gained popularity as an eco-friendly alternative death care option because it emits fewer greenhouse gasses than other burial methods. Washington became the first state to legalize the process.

More people now are choosing cremations over burials, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. The Cremation Association of North America’s 2022 Annual Statistics reports that Oregon’s cremation rate is 79.5%, making it third in the nation after Nevada and Maine.

While some find cremation is generally less harmful than pumping a body full of formaldehyde and burying it with a metal or lacquered casket and a concrete liner, it requires a lot of fuel and results in millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

With the passage of this new law, Oregonians can be turned into soil after they die. But until the process is actually offered here, your body will have to be shipped to neighboring Washington if you wish to be composted.

Susie and I drove the four corners of the old and new district Saturday.

We started in Tillamook and a small but much appreciated gathering of friends sharing their appreciation for my years of service to South County. Then we crossed Lincoln County to Florence to meet with local organizers in the new HD 10. The road trip took us through the wine country of Lane and Benton Counties and we finished the day in Philomath with a wonderful Sip and Stroll downtown. The entire city was alive with locals and visitors walking and engaging the community, sampling wine and food at 28 different main street businesses. Thank you Mayor Jones for being our tour guide and to the Philomath Chamber for organizing an excellent event.

David and Susan in Philomath with Mayor Jones

Earlier todayMonday, I was the radio guest on Hotline and a wide ranging discussion of issues and topics affecting the Coast.

Tuesday I’ll attend the Oregon Coast Community College Foundation meeting and retreat. Later I’ll offer remarks at the Accreditation Ceremony of the 60+ Activity Center in Newport.

Wednesday I’ll be zooming with the Board of Humane Voters Oregon to discuss pet safety legislation next session. Thursday I’ll be meeting with the Superintendent of the Alsea School District and cutting a ribbon at the new Lakeheart Guest House.

Friday I’m cruising Devils Lake for an examination of invasive weeds and control measures. I’m sitting down with IBEW to talk about balancing new jobs and fishing jobs in wind energy zones. And then I chair a meeting of a workgroup on Volunteer Engagement and how to find more people to help first responders when local events occur.

Finally, on Saturday we’re celebrating all the improvements at the Oregon Coast Aquarium with a gala event. They have asked me to say a few words about the $5 million in state support we were able to secure.

It is a busy but constructive week, as always. I hope I’ll be able to see many of you out there.

phone: 503-986-1410
address: 900 Court St NE, H-480, Salem, OR, 97301