Oregon Lawmakers Pass $32 Million Coronavirus Relief Package for Renters, Workers and Businesses

Oregon lawmakers on Thursday approved a $32 million emergency aid package aimed at helping renters, workers, small businesses and the survivors of domestic violence survivors that have been impacted by the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Joint Emergency Board of the Oregon Legislature also gave Governor Kate Brown the authority to spend up to $300 million in federal aid the state has received to address the Covid-19 crisis.

Of the state funding package the E-Board passed this week, $12 million will go toward rent assistance and motel vouchers for disadvantaged communities. The lion’s share of this, $8.5 million, will go directly to residential landlords, to secure the housing of renters earning 50 percent or less than the area’s median income. The remainder will pay for hotel or motel rooms for farm workers and other housing-insecure groups.

About a third of the approximately $32.5 million package will create a wage replacement fund for workers unemployed because of the coronavirus, and who are unable to access unemployment payments because of immigration status or other reasons.

With the help of matching funds from Oregon Business, $10 million will be disbursed in financial assistance to small businesses that haven’t been able to access federal aid such as the Paycheck Protection Program, which ran out of money in less than two weeks (a second round of funding has been approved by Congress).

The program was also criticized for allowing large, publicly traded chains like Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steak House to gobble up hundreds of millions of dollars that had been earmarked specifically for struggling small businesses.

State lawmakers also approved $3.35 million to help workers in long-term care facilities pay for coronavirus testing and offer caregivers training in infectious disease prevention, and $2 million for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, which will be disbursed by dozens of partnering organizations around the state and is primarily intended to address housing needs.

House Democrat Leader Barbara Smith Warner, of Portland, applauded the bipartisan effort.

““We are all in this together regardless of our party or where we live,” Rep. Smith Warner said. “And today, not as Republicans or Democrats but as Oregonians, we took a critically important step to support front line workers, domestic abuse survivors and small business owners.”

Her counterpart, House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, of Canby, who also serves on the E-Board, also hailed the package, but said the state still must do more to support small businesses and working families.

“Direct support of Oregonians is valuable and necessary, but it is the long-term stability that comes from holding onto a job that keeps the stress and fear of this economic crisis from taking over a heart and a home,” Rep. Drazan said. “We cannot ignore the value of a balanced approach in responding to this crisis. Investments in Oregon businesses are investments in the lives of Oregonians.”

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