State Legislature
Democrats have advanced a $1.4 billion budget that includes affordable housing, education, health care and other priorities. (Photo by Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

New state spending designed to improve the lives of Oregonians by helping thousands of homeless residents obtain shelter, providing access to clean water in small, rural towns and enabling more than 100,000 students to take summer classes appears headed to legislative approval.

“We are seizing this opportunity to send direct relief to Oregonians and deliver results for  working families,” said Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, after the $1.4 billion package was endorsed by the Joint Ways and Means Committee on Monday, with 17 Democrats and Republicans voting in favor. One Democrat and four Republicans opposed the plan.

House Bill 5202 is now in the House. The budget will supplement the one that covers the current biennium from July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2023. It includes some quick payouts to Oregonians, including $600 checks to 240,000 low-income residents. 

The package also covers various programs serving people in all corners of the state, but those will take time to roll out. Oregonians won’t see for months the benefits from multi-million dollar packages on housing, workforce training, energy efficiency and child care.

One example: About $400 million is earmarked in the budget for affordable housing and shelter projects. 

“Housing doesn’t get built overnight, but shelters can go up fairly quickly,” said Rep. David Gomberg, D-Otis. “Immediate shelter has to be the priority.”

The latest estimate by Oregon Housing and Community Services, the state’s housing agency, found there were 15,800 homeless people in Oregon in 2019, including nearly 2,600 children. Nearly 5,000 were chronically homeless.

When new shelters and temporary housing units open, which could be a year away, hundreds of people around the state will get to sleep in a bed with a roof over their heads instead of being squeezed into a vehicle, staying with friends or relatives or sleeping on the streets.

“We have so many people in Oregon who are unsheltered or homeless,” Gomberg said. “In my district, one in five kids in our public schools doesn’t have a long-term secure place to spend the night.”

Several items provide relief to low-income Oregonians. The pandemic has widened the divide between the poor and wealthy, with inflation pushing the cost of food and housing up while incomes have not kept up, economists say. If passed, as is likely, the budget could keep insured 55,000 low-income people who risk losing their health insurance, provide rebates to low-income residents to make their homes more energy efficient, make child care more affordable and increase training so that Oregonians of color and women can develop skills to work in health care, construction or manufacturing.

The agenda was largely written by Democrats, who control both chambers. Republicans support some of the proposals but they say the budget is too big and that the state could face unforeseen expenses in the future.

“The Democrats are spending a lot of money without a full picture of what the future costs of these programs will be,” said Dru Draper, spokesman of the Senate’s Republican caucus. “In many cases, these programs double down on the same policies that have failed to show much in the way of results. They won’t be able to spend their way out of rising crime, our homeless and housing issues, or failing government schools. All these issues require real reform.”

Legislators opened their session with more than $2 billion extra to spend because of unexpected and surging tax collections. Here is a look at some of the key areas where money would flow under the lastest spending plan.

Affordable housing 

Legislators budgeted $400 million to build and preserve affordable homes, get people off the streets and into shelters and help with down payments.

Among projects funded:

  • $50 million for Project Turnkey to continue converting motels into homeless shelters. Rep. Julie Fahey, D-Eugene, said that should be enough to buy about 10 more motels, though the number of people that can be housed depends on the size and layout of the shelters. 
  • $35 million to build 175 affordable homes in rural areas of the state. 
  • $25 million to nine large cities and counties for temporary shelters, outreach services and hygiene services, like portable toilets, shower trucks and laundry facilities. Salem, which is set to receive $2.5 million, has more than 120 small shelters with room for two people to sleep, but needs land and staff. Eugene, which will receive $5 million, intends to expand its year-old “safe sleep sites” program that allows people to legally camp in their cars or tents.  
  • $20 million to preserve five manufactured home parks, saving about 300 affordable homes.
  • $15 million for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County to set up a new organization to construct manufactured homes for low-income buyers and renters, especially those affected by wildfires. Legislative fiscal analysts estimate this could create 50 to 60 jobs within six  months to a year. 
  • $5 million to the Hacienda Community Development Corp., a Portland nonprofit, to help people of color who earn the median income or slightly above to cover down payment costs on a home. 

Most of the remaining sum is for existing programs that help affordable housing developers pay for land or construction or to help people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, including rent assistance programs to stave off eviction and workers who help homeless people connect with resources.

Education 

Hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s general fund will pour into the budget of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission and the Oregon Department of Education, the bulk of it to pay for summer classes provided by schools and community groups. 

  • $150 million to school districts and Education Service Districts providing summer classes to help high school students catch up on course credit, offer enrichment in core subjects like math, science and English and enhance student emotional and behavioral health.
    In 2021, 161 school districts, 69 charter schools and thousands of community programs requested about $100 million for summer classes that served more than 100,000 students. Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, hope to nearly double the reach of summer classes this year and to use expanded summer school as an inroad to pushing for year-round school.
  • $26 million to expand career and technical education in high schools, provide college-level learning opportunities and prevent student dropouts.
  • $19 million to fund most college expenses for enrolled members of Oregon-based tribes.
  • $5 million to increase graduation rates for the state’s 12,700 Black and African American students. 
  • $4 million for the Oregon Teacher Scholars Program for scholarships of $10,000 to non-native English speakers nearing the end of their teaching degree programs.
  • $238,000 to increase high school graduation rates for the state’s 4,500 Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students.

Rural Oregon

A total of $100 million will be used for projects in rural Oregon where water treatment plants, courthouses and roads and bridges are crumbling. Republicans leaders – and Gomberg – picked the projects.

“In some cases, they’ll have cleaner water or effective sewer plants,” Gomberg said. “In some cases, it means that they’ll have a new courthouse. It could mean that there will be changes and improvements made to county fairs, or it may mean improvements to their ports or their airports.”

Unlike other big-ticket items in the budget, Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said Oregonians in rural areas are likely to enjoy the impact of this spending fairly quickly.

 “Most of these projects are fairly small,” Knopp said. “Most of them can be one within a year or two.”

Among the projects:

  • $12 million for county fairs in Crook, Malheur, Grant, Harney, Baker and Lake counties. 
  • Knopp said much of it will be spent on fairgrounds. “In rural areas, they are still a significant meeting place and gathering spot and one of the biggest events in the year in most of those counties.”
  • $2.5 million to help Mill City improve its sewer system.
  • $2.5 million to fix a wastewater treatment system in Falls City.
  • $1.6 million to build a new public works facility and improve drinking water in Aumsville.
  • $1.1 million to upgrade Newport’s port.
  • $275,000 to improve water lines in Merrill.

Behavioral health

The behavioral health profession will get $175 million to help retain employees. The providers serving adults and children are on the verge of collapse. 

Another $100 million will go for behavioral health housing.

“This will make that whole system work a lot better,” said Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, chair of the House Behavioral Health Committee. “We hopefully won’t have the bottleneck at the state hospital.”

About 100 people are currently in a hospital bed or emergency room, awaiting transfer to the state hospital, Nosse said. Others are at the state hospital and waiting to be admitted to a facility in the community. 

“There’s not a lot of secure residential treatment or housing across our state for people who are pretty sick but not quite ready to live among us but not sick enough to be in the state hospital,” Nosse said. “This additional $100 million will get more of that built.”

The package marks a continuation of $1 billion in federal and state dollars that was earmarked for the 2021-2023 biennium for behavioral health and addiction treatment. Most of those programs are not off the ground yet. 

Workforce training

A $200 million package, including $77 million in state money, will fund Gov. Kate Brown’s “Future Ready Oregon” for workforce training and other programs to train workers.package. 

Included: 

  • $95 million for community organizations to distribute to workers to subsidize costs like child care, housing and transportation as they learn new skills. 
  • $35 million for local workforce boards to recruit and train workers, especially workers of color and LGBTQ people, to work in construction, manufacturing and health care.
  • $20 million for apprenticeship programs at the state Bureau of Labor and Industries.
  • $15 million for career programs at community colleges.

Another $45 million was allocated to Oregon Health & Science University to increase the number of graduates of nurses, clinical psychologists, physicians, physician assistants and nutritionists by 30% and ensure 30% of its students are from underrepresented populations by 2030.

“Without these efforts, Oregon will not be prepared to adequately address ongoing health care needs and future public health crises, which will only widen the health equity gap across our state,” said Dr. George Mejicano, associate dean of education in the OHSU School of Medicine.

Child care 

The budget puts $100 million into child care, including $21 million for $500 retention payments to child care workers in 2022 and 2023. That responds to anecdotal evidence considered by legislators and survey data that indicates that Oregon is losing child care providers, leaving parents with fewer choices and higher costs.

Almost $40 million would be used to recruit and train new child care providers and help existing facilities expand. That includes:

  • $8 million for Neighbor Impact, a Central Oregon nonprofit to help new child care providers start their businesses. A $6.6 million investment from Deschutes County last fall created an estimated 500 new openings for children and trained 275 workers.
  • $7.9 million for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, Oregon AFSCME’s United We Heal Training Trust for grants to child care providers, including up to $14,000 for in-home providers and $70,000 for child care centers. 
  • $1.2 million to the nonprofit Euvalcree in Ontario, which is creating a combination child care center and training facility to provide 30 spots for children and train an estimated 10 child care providers. Executive Director Gustavo Morales told lawmakers in a letter that the child care site would cost $650,000. 

The Legislature also intends to use nearly $27 million to increase child care subsidies for low-income families. 

Climate Change 

About $100 million is budgeted to make the air cleaner and homes more energy efficient, help communities protect themselves from drought and keep more Oregonians cooler during extreme heat waves. This includes:

  • $15 million to replenish a rebate program to encourage people to buy electric cars “We’re filling the bucket back up,” said Sen. Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton, who drives an electric car. “As we know, emissions from cars are one of the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions so the more people we can get into (electric vehicles) the better.” 
  • $15 million to establish electric-charging stations along major highways, giving priority to communities disproportionately hit by diesel pollution.
  • $15 million for air conditioners and heat pumps for homes.
  • $5 million in rebates for residential solar projects in homes 
  • $5 million to help low-income Oregonians repair and renovate their homes to make them more energy efficient. “Older homes leak a lot of greenhouse gasses because the regulations they were built under were not as energy efficient,” Lieber said.
  • $2.6 million for drought resiliency. 

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Les Zaitz for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Julia Shumway, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.

Alex Baumhardt, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.