Lawmakers allocate millions for grasshoppers and affordable housing
The Oregon Legislature Emergency Council on Friday earmarked millions of dollars for a variety of issues deemed to be in immediate need in the state, including forest management, grasshopper and cricket suppression , affordable housing stabilization, and the mental health of law enforcement.
A total of 69 items were validated.
Republicans said Democrats — who retain control of the committee because of their majority status in the Legislative Assembly — should have spent more money on the emergencies they say Oregonians are most concerned about.
“Inflation, violent crime, drug use and homelessness are all rising rapidly in Oregon and today was a missed opportunity for Democratic leaders to address real emergencies and provide solutions. to these critical issues,” House Republican Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville, said.
The Emergency Council is a powerful legislative committee filled with political leaders from both sides of the aisle tasked with providing state agencies with the funds needed during the interim between sessions of the Oregon legislature. The committee will meet again in September.
Here are some of the items lawmakers approved in a lengthy meeting on Friday afternoon:
$100 million to the Public Defense Service Commission
Lawmakers agreed to release a $100 million holdback from general funds to the Public Defense Service Commission after the commission “at least” met release conditions, as stipulated in previous budget conversations for its biennial budget. 2021-2023.
The commission oversees the state agency that operates the state’s public defenders and related legal services.
The commission was charged with carrying out certain legislative expectations in the areas of restructuring, modernization, financial controls, quality management, performance measures and governance of the agency.
The post sparked discussion because lawmakers decided to release the full $100 million rather than $63.2 million, which the agency’s budget identified as its costs for the remainder of the biennium. and which corresponded to the amount recommended by the Legislative Tax Office.
Proponents of this point agreed that the agency’s budget did not take into consideration other outstanding costs that would likely increase its spending throughout the biennium.
$1.2 million for grasshopper and locust suppression
Partly due to persistent drought conditions, grasshoppers and crickets have invaded rural areas across Oregon in 2021 and 2020. Lawmakers have described them as a serious threat or even “like a plague.”
Senator Lynn Findley, R-Vale, said some areas saw 55 to 65 grasshoppers per square yard. Eight grasshoppers per square yard can cause significant damage to rangelands, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
Lawmakers have committed $1,192,241 from the general fund to help with outbreak suppression, bringing the program to $5 million in total for treatment of up to one million acres. State funds are used in a 75% cost-share with landowners, and lawmakers said adding additional state funds will assure landowners that the state will continue to meet its end of the program.
$30 million for health insurance for long-term care providers
Lawmakers allocated $30 million in public funds and increased spending limits on federal funds by $45 million to implement a health care program for long-term care providers.
Lawmakers have said health insurance coverage is unaffordable or unavailable for many long-term care providers, the workers who provide health care to many at-risk people, especially during the pandemic.
The Oregon Health Authority plans to use the $30 million to leverage a federal Medicaid match to provide additional payments to participating employers. These payments will allow employers to provide health care to their employees.
Benefits are expected to begin October 1.
$5 million for Affordable Housing Stabilization Grants
Lawmakers allocated $5 million to Portland’s housing authority, Home Forward, to administer grants to affordable housing providers with unpaid debt due to overdue rent accrued in April.
The money will go through the Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services to Home Forward.
There are a variety of requirements defining which housing providers are eligible for the funds. Entities that receive these grants must also cancel an equivalent amount of tenant debt.
While broadly agreeing that the funding and program was a legitimate need, Republicans expressed dismay that the item was taken to the Emergency Board because it violated a committee rule. The rule, as they described it, is that all requests must go through state agencies, not lawmakers themselves.
This particular request did not come from one agency, namely the OHCS. On the contrary, the co-chairs of the Emergency Council – Senate Speaker Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis – made the request. They said the request was made with support from affordable housing advocates, the governor’s office and OHCS.
Republicans were particularly frustrated over an unspecified request from Findley that was summarily denied because it did not come from an agency. Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp of Bend said the inclusion of the co-chair element means Republicans would no longer observe the rule that only agencies submit requests to the Emergency Council.
Courtney acknowledged that they did not follow typical procedure for this request, but said the need was great enough to be considered. Rayfield said it’s not uncommon in the history of the Emergency Council for co-chairs to make demands of the committee.
Journalist Connor Radnovich covers the Oregon legislature and state government. Contact him at [email protected] or 503-508-6131, or follow him on Twitter at @CDRadnovich.