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Oregon lawmakers pass rental assistance, other major bills in special session

KTVZ file

(Update: Oregon Legislature adjourns one-day special session - details of legislation)

Associated Press/Report for America

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon lawmakers on Monday passed additional safety nets to keep housed thousands of people currently struggling to pay rent or facing eviction during the pandemic and also approved money to combat illegal marijuana grows.

During a one-day special legislative session, lawmakers passed a $215 million package — which includes $100 million for additional emergency rental assistance for both tenants and landlords and funds to help agencies that have had a hard time getting emergency money out the door to do so more quickly.

“Most of us here have been fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with the urgency, the panic and the desperation that so many in our communities are now experiencing. Having done everything in their power and everything they were told they needed to do to remain housed, they still remain in danger of losing their shelter and safety,” said Rep. Wlnsvey Campos, a Democrat.

More than 67,000 Oregon households recently reported they feel “not at all confident” they can cover next month’s bills, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau survey. Despite an overwhelming need, this month the statewide rental assistance program stopped taking new applications after all $289 million of federal funds have been requested and committed to renters. However, due to a backlog $119 million has yet to reach renters.

Margaret Salazar, the director of the state’s Housing and Community Services, said Monday she expects the remaining federal assistance will be administered to Oregon tenants by March 2022. In addition, she estimates the proposed additional state funded rental assistance would be administered by June 2022.

Republican lawmakers have been critical of the Oregon Housing and Community Services “mismanagement” of the application backlog and said the bill fails to hold the agency accountable.

“Anyone who understands how to run a business knows that you do not throw money at something that isn’t working and you don’t cover up inefficiencies by avoiding accountability,” said Republican Rep. Bobby Levy.

Lawmakers also voted in favor of extending the current 60-day eviction protection period. The initial law, which the governor signed in June, grants renters a two-month period in which they cannot be evicted due to lack of payments, as long as they provide proof that they applied for aid.

However an estimated 8,355 households are at risk of eviction, as the safe harbor protection keeping them housed have expired as they continue to wait for aid from the state.

“It would be tragic if Oregonians lost their homes because the money, available to help them, doesn’t reach them in time,” said Rep. Julie Fahey, D-West Eugene and Junction City.

The extension will keep eviction protections to remain in place for a tenant until their application has been processed — and not limited to 60 days.

Differing views on COVID-19 related restrictions and safety mandates also carried into Monday’s special session. Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, was escorted out of the chamber after Senate President Peter Courtney deemed his colleague was out of order and in violation of rules for refusing to wear a mask. There is a statewide indoor mask mandate in Oregon.

“I must tell you this is something that makes me sad, very sad Dallas,” Courtney said when Heard refused to put on a mask or leave the chamber. “Assuming the mask mandate still exists during (the next legislative session), we will have to move against individuals who don’t wear a mask and have them expelled before the extent that we can.”

Although there has been tension between the two parties, there were members of the Senate GOP who voted in favor of the Monday’s rental assistance and eviction protection package. Republican Sen. Bill Kennemer described the package as “a legitimate need for this bill and... it’s a balance that’s appropriate.”

GOP lawmakers say that “after repeated failures by Oregon’s housing department to timely implement a rental assistance program” Republicans have reached a bipartisan agreement with majority Democrats to fix the problem and protect landlords and renters.

“When we first started, we were miles apart,” said Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend. “We were not willing to entertain coming in to pass legislation that we believed would do long-term damage to the rental housing market.”

As part of the agreement, $5 million will be directed to the Oregon Housing and Community Services to speed up the processing of assistance applications and $10 million will be placed into the Landlord Guarantee Fund.

But keeping Oregonians housed were not the only bills that passed. Others were drought relief, illegal cannabis proliferation and support for Afghan refugee resettlement.

One bill that received unanimous support from lawmakers in both the House and Senate was $25 million for a comprehensive, statewide plan to address the proliferation of illegal cannabis around the state and ease the associated humanitarian impacts in Oregon.

Authorities say thousands of immigrants working on southern Oregon illegal marijuana farms that are run by foreign cartels are living in squalid conditions and are sometimes being cheated and threatened by their gangland bosses.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg. Colleague’s human trafficking and human-labor trafficking is happening. People are housed in squalor conditions. It’s just appalling,” Knopp said. “Farm workers deserve so much better. But unfortunately, this borders on slavery.”

Lawmakers also passed $100 million to help Oregonians impacted by this summer’s extreme heat and drought conditions.

Here are news releases issued by Gov. Brown and lawmakers on Monday:

Governor Kate Brown Issues Statement After Adjournment of Bipartisan Special Session

(Salem, OR) — Governor Kate Brown issued the following statement today, after the adjournment of the Legislature’s special session concerning critical issues facing Oregonians:

“I’d like to thank lawmakers from both sides of the aisle for taking immediate, bipartisan action to address this critical set of issues impacting Oregonians––including evictions, drought, the proliferation of illegal cannabis operations and accompanying humanitarian impacts, Afghan refugee resettlement, and more,” said Governor Brown. “I remain focused on working with agency directors to ensure relief reaches Oregonians as quickly as possible. Every Oregonian deserves a warm, safe, dry place to call home––and I am committed to working to prevent evictions as we prepare for the transition to local eviction prevention services after federal pandemic emergency programs draw to an end.

“Tens of thousands of Oregon renters have applied for rental assistance. While we have made significant progress in improving the delivery of rental assistance in the last several weeks, we know that renters and their landlords are counting on these additional state resources and that we must move quickly.”

As of this week, through December 11, Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) and its partners have distributed more than $181 million in federal rental assistance funds through the Oregon Emergency Rental Assistance Program (OERAP) on behalf of more than 26,000 Oregon families. In the past week alone, OHCS and its partners distributed more than $13 million in funds. According to data from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, Oregon ranks fourth in the nation in percent of funds distributed, and we have been in the top-ten among our national peers for nearly three months. In the past 11 months, OHCS has distributed more than $381 million in emergency rental assistance––more than every year in the prior decade combined.

On drought relief, the Governor added: “This was an exceptionally hard year to be a farmer or rancher in Oregon––with the impacts of extreme drought combined with those of record heat and excessive smoke. Over the past several months, my office worked with stakeholders, legislators, and tribal partners to identify the impacts of drought and the gaps in available federal relief in developing the comprehensive drought relief package passed with bipartisan support by the Legislature today. I’d like to thank legislators from both parties for their support of this package, which includes both direct relief for agricultural producers and investments to prepare for future drought years.”

The Governor announced the special session at the end of November, and outlined the priorities she and lawmakers had agreed to for the special session last Friday.

House Speaker Tina Kotek issues statement on successful one-day special session

The Legislature passed bills to prevent winter evictions, provide emergency rental assistance, drought relief, support Afghan refugees and more

SALEM – Today following the conclusion of a successful one-day special session, Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) released the following statement:

“I called for this special session months ago because we had to honor our commitment to keep Oregonians housed during the pandemic. Today, we kept our promise and protected thousands from losing their homes this winter.

“We also sent much-needed relief to farmers and ranchers impacted by drought, heat, and wildfire. And we welcomed Afghan families seeking refuge in Oregon by approving funds to help them secure housing and meet basic needs. I’m appreciative of the bipartisan work that led to this successful emergency special session to provide relief for every part of the state.”

Below is a select summary of legislation and funding that passed during the special session:

Housing Protections

Senate Bill 891 extends safe harbor protections to prevent evictions of Oregonians who have rental assistance on the way. Senate Bill 5561 includes a $215 million package to provide additional rental assistance, speed up the process of applications, and ensure landlords are fully paid.

Drought Relief

In response to the impact the recent heat dome, wildfire smoke and record drought have had on farming communities, Senate Bill 5561 includes a $100 million drought relief package to support farmers and irrigators across the state who have been impacted by drought, heat, or fire. Senate Bill 892 establishes a forgivable loan program to provide financial assistance for Oregon farmers and ranchers who lost gross income in 2021 due to a qualifying natural disaster.

Illegal Cannabis Enforcement

Senate Bill 5561 approves $25 million to prevent illegal operations and address the humanitarian crisis impacting workers at these sites. Senate Bill 893 expands the scope of the Illegal Marijuana Market Enforcement Grant program at the Criminal Justice Commission to include funding for community-based organizations to address the humanitarian crisis that workers are forced into with unlawful cultivation or distribution operations.

Afghan Refugee Support

Senate Bill 5561 includes $18 million to help Afghan refugees arriving in Oregon find housing, education, language and job training, and legal assistance.

Affordable Housing and Homeless Support

Senate Bill 5561 approved $1 million to each of the following cities: Albany, Ashland, Beaverton, Bend, Corvallis, Eugene, Grants Pass, Gresham, Hillsboro, Medford, Portland, Redmond, Salem, and Springfield. The $14 million total will address housing insecurity, lack of affordable housing, or homelessness over the next few months. The City of Portland will use its $1 million to work with local partners to establish RV parking sites.

Oregon Mass Timber Modular Housing Prototype

Senate Bill 5561 includes $5 million for the Port of Portland to help fund the Oregon Mass Timber Modular Housing Prototype project, which will develop a prototype of modular housing units made from mass timber AND assess the economic, environmental, and efficiency of creating these housing units to address the housing crisis in Oregon.

Gun Violence Prevention

Senate Bill 5561 invests $2 million to assist the City of Gresham and local community partners in creating and implementing the East Metro Outreach, Prevention, and Intervention (OPI) program. The program will address rising youth violence and improve public safety outcomes in East Multnomah County by building community and investing in mentoring and culturally responsive youth programming.

Senate President Peter Courtney On Sine Die of the 2nd Special Session of 2021

SALEM, Ore. – The Oregon State Senate adjourned for the 2nd Special Session of the 2021 Legislature at 3:10 p.m. on Monday, December 13, 2021. Senate President Peter Courtney issued the following statement:

“Two weeks ago I said I hoped we’d be ready for today. There was no plan. No agreement. Success was not guaranteed. Your Legislature worked hard since that day.

“Today, we helped tenants stay in their homes while keeping landlords whole. We sent relief to farmers and ranchers who have been hurt by the drought. We provided money to support Afghan refugees arriving in Oregon. And we took a big step forward in the fight against illegal marijuana operations.

“Oregonians can be proud of their legislators today… Democrat and Republican. We came together to send relief… hope… to Oregonians in crisis.”

Two releases from the Senate Majority Office:

Senate Democrats Pass Legislation to Prevent Evictions and Keep Oregonians Housed

SALEM – Today, the Oregon Senate convened in a Special Session of the Legislature to vote on and pass Senate Bill 891, legislation that will prevent thousands of evictions during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and upcoming winter months. The bill extends the safe harbor period for tenants who have applied for rental assistance and provides support for Oregon’s rental assistance program.

“Since the start of this pandemic, our state has been committed to keeping Oregonians in their homes during this crisis by launching mortgage and rental assistance programs and enacting foreclosure and eviction protections,” said Senator Kayse Jama (D-Portland), chair of the Senate Housing Committee and a lead proponent of SB 891. “Today we passed SB 891 to prevent evictions of tenants who are waiting for assistance, as well as allowing more tenants to apply for assistance and ensuring landlords are fully paid.”

Senate Bill 891 extends the “safe harbor” provisions in Senate Bill 278 from the end of February 2022 to June 30, 2022. The “safe harbor” will last while their rental assistance application is being processed, but no later than September 30, 2022.

The Senate also passed Senate Bill 5561, which contains allocations and investments in key priorities for Senate Democrats, includes:

  • $100 million in additional emergency rental assistance to ensure low-income tenants have access to housing in the winter.
  • $100 million to support partnerships with existing programs as Oregon transitions from large-scale pandemic-related emergency rental assistance to long-term, locally-delivered eviction prevention services.
  • An additional $10 million to the Landlord Guarantee Fund to reimburse landlords for non-payment of rent and other fees incurred during the safe harbor period.
  • $5 million to speed up the delivery of federal funds

“Senate Democrats stepped up to ensure that Oregonians from across the state—whether they live in a rural, suburban or urban community—will all benefit from these important housing protections,” said Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego). “I commend the crucial work by the Legislature’s Housing Committee Chairs, Senator Kayse Jama and Representative Julie Fahey, and thank them for working diligently to protect vulnerable Oregonians.”

Senate Bill 891 and Senate Bill 5561 will now move to the Oregon House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate Passes Drought Relief Package to Support Rural Communities

SALEM – Today, the Oregon Senate passed a $100 million funding package to provide relief and support to rural Oregon communities reeling from ongoing drought and recent wildfires. Senate Bill 892 and Senate Bill 5561 will make investments across Oregon to help communities that were hit hard by these crises and mitigate future drought impacts.

“Earlier this year, we passed a massive water package to help communities develop adequate groundwater infrastructure. Today we are following up on that investment with a relief package to address this year’s severe drought and its impact on agricultural businesses and workers,” said Senator Kathleen Taylor (D-Portland), chair of the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Natural Resources. “We are seeing the impacts of climate change across Oregon, and it is very important that we do all we can to prepare for the challenges ahead.”

The drought relief package included in SB 892 and SB 5561 includes:

  • $40 million for an agricultural forgivable disaster loan program;
  • $12 million for the Klamath Basin for domestic well assistance;
  • $9.7 million to address drought relief on Klamath Tribal lands;
  • $10 million for agricultural workers who miss work due to unsafe working conditions resulting from extreme heat or smoke
  • Other targeted investments in drought relief and resiliency

“Senate Democrats continue to fight for critical investments in rural Oregon. Today we voted to ensure rural communities have the resources they need to respond to terrible drought and wildfire impacts,” said Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego). “We strongly support Oregon’s agricultural community, farmworkers and Tribes and we will continue to work toward solutions as we prepare for the 2022 Legislative Session.”

Senate Bill 892 and Senate Bill 5561 will now go to the Oregon House of Representatives for consideration.

Four news releases from Oregon Senate Republicans:

As Cartels Exploit Border Crisis to Terrorize Southern Oregon, Republican Plan Clears Senate

SALEM, Ore. – Joe Biden’s border crisis has planted roots in Southern Oregon as cartels engage in large-scale humanitarian crimes. These cartels have engaged in human trafficking, murder, assault, stolen water during extreme heat and drought, and have engaged in illegal marijuana trafficking that seeks to profit at the expense of legitimate Oregon businesses.

“It is clear that law enforcement needs more help to stop these dangerous illegal operations,” said Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend). “This package gives our county partners the resources they need to hire the law enforcement and water masters to oversee the huge task they have in front of them.  No matter how much we spend, we will continue to spin our wheels in this fight against the cartels if the southern border remains wide open. Human trafficking will continue, the violence against Oregonians will continue, and Oregon businesses will continue to pay the price until these illegal grow sites are completely eradicated from our state.

“For the health and well-being of Oregon, President Biden and Congress must immediately address the humanitarian crisis at the border. Oregonians’ lives, livelihoods, waterways, and human dignity are on the line. 

The Senate passed SB 893 by a vote of 28-0 and will now be considered by the House.

Republican Priorities Included in Special Session Appropriations Bill

SALEM, Ore. – The Senate passed an appropriations package Monday that includes, at the request of Senate Republicans, investments into affordable housing. Included in the package is $14 million for affordable housing in 14 Oregon cities. This money is earmarked for addressing housing insecurity, lack of affordable housing, or homelessness.

“The homelessness crisis has only worsened,” Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend). “This money will help our homeless populations transition into lives of purpose by providing them with transitional housing. Housing alone will not solve this problem, however. Drug treatment, mental health treatment, and real enforcement are required to make meaningful progress on this issue.”

Spearheaded by Senator Bill Hansell (R-Athena), the omnibus funding bill also creates a grant program to help outdoor recreation outfitter guides recover from lost business due to drought, wildfire, or COVID-19.

“These outdoor guides are critical to our rural tourism economy, but because of the drought and wildfires these businesses were heavily impacted,” said Senator Hansell. “This money will help them recover from these natural disasters so they can continue to support our economy for years to come.”

At the request of Senate Republicans, the funding bill will also release $19 million in funding for better reimbursement rates to dentists who provide services to low-income Oregonians. At the beginning of the year, OHA cut reimbursement rates by 11% to these providers, which threaten the access to care for those on the Oregon Health Plan. The $19 million will help recoup nearly half of the loss of funding to the system because of the cut.

The Senate passed SB 5561 on a vote of 26-2 and will now be considered by the House.

Bipartisan Housing Plan Will Bring End to Pandemic Housing Policy

SALEM, Ore. – Since the beginning of the pandemic, Republicans have stood up for working families who were forced into unemployment by the Governor’s extreme lockdowns. Because they were unable to work and pay their rent, the extreme housing policies have destabilized the housing market, leading to the justification for this special session.

Housing providers have gone months without being able to pay their bills. Oregon Housing and Community Services has failed for months to get timely assistance to Oregon renters and housing providers. Senate Republicans were instrumental in including provisions into the housing bill that will correct the failures of the agency, and chart a path back to normalcy in Oregon’s rental housing market.

“This bill will put us on a track to end the extreme government overreach that has led to thousands being unable to pay their rent,” said Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend). “It will put some stability back into the housing market by closing the book on pandemic housing policy and ensuring housing providers are made whole.

“OHCS has told us that the $5 million included in the package will help them simplify and speed up the application process so Oregonians can get the assistance they are due. If the failures at the agency persist, it's clear that we need a new Director overseeing this agency. This money belongs to housing providers and the funds must be allocated to those that need it and in the way it was intended. I have requested that an audit of this agency occur to ensure these failures never happen again. Accountability and accuracy are critical.

“Oregonians want a check on these kinds of extreme government overreach that disrupt their lives. The persistent failures of the housing department are just the latest example of the desperate need for balance and accountability in Salem.”

The Senate passed SB 891 by a vote of 22-6 and will now be considered by the House.

Bipartisan Bill Honors Debt to Afghan Refugees

SALEM, Ore. – After President Biden’s chaotic and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan, Afghans who risked their lives to help American troops fight terrorism were left behind. In the coming months, Oregon will welcome 1,200 of these refugees to our state.

Today the Senate passed the appropriations bill which included an allocation of $18 million to help those refugees find housing and jobs in Oregon.

“We owe a debt to these Afghan refugees,” said Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend). “They risked their lives for the cause of freedom. We should welcome them with open arms and help them create meaningful lives here in Oregon. This was a great bipartisan concern that was on the agenda for the Emergency Board to take up for quite some time. I am proud that we were able to get it done during this special session.”

Senate Bill 5561 passed the Senate by a vote of 26-2 and will now be considered by the House.

Oregon Housing and Community Services:

Oregon adds additional $100 million for rental assistance, other state funding to support renters and landlords impacted by the pandemic

Once signed by the Governor, tenants who have or will apply for rental assistance before June 30, 2022 cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent until their application is processed; Protections end on Sept. 30, 2022 

SALEM, ORE - Today the Oregon State Legislature in a special session passed SB 5561 (2nd Special Session of 2021) that adds an additional $100 million in state funding to the federal Oregon Emergency Rental Assistance Program (OERAP) to help tenants and landlords in need. The Legislature also passed SB 891 (2nd Special Session of 2021) to ensure tenants who apply for rental assistance before June 30, 2022 cannot be evicted until their application is processed. The protections end on Sept. 30, 2022. The legislation is now with Governor Brown for her signature. 

Following is a statement from Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) Executive Director Margaret Salazar:

“We are deeply appreciative that the Oregon State Legislature and Governor Brown came together to provide more time and protection for renters to get the rental assistance they need during this critical time. We know eviction risk is real for too many families. As renters testified to over the weekend, the looming fear of eviction is devastating. The anxiety of a 60-day clock hanging over the heads of tenants in need has taken a toll.”

“We are also grateful that additional state funds will go toward OERAP assistance while the state awaits the potential for additional federal funding. Together with our local program partners and our vendor Public Partnerships (PPL), we are quickly processing as many applications as possible so that landlords can be made whole, and tenants can remain safely and affordably housed.”

It’s been eight months since the launch of the federal OERAP, and as of this week, more than $181 million has been paid to more than 26,000 households. OERAP continues to be one of the nation’s leading programs. As of today, Oregon is ranked 4th in the nation, up from 6th in the nation last week, in the percentage of ERA funds paid out and obligated, as tracked by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. In the past 11 months, OHCS has distributed more than $381 million in emergency rental assistance––more than every year in the prior decade combined.
Highlights from the legislation that will impact tenants and landlords include:

  • Renters who fall behind on current or future rent now have until June 30, 2022 to apply for OERAP to access the safe harbor period ending on Sept. 30, 2022. If they apply before June 30, they cannot be evicted before their application is processed. Renters must show their landlord they have applied for the program to receive the protections. 
  • The new legislation overrides previous “safe harbor” periods passed by the Oregon State Legislature (60 days statewide) and some local jurisdictions (90 days in Multnomah County, unincorporated Washington County and Lane County).
  • An additional $100 million in state funds will be added to OERAP, which had previously been funded solely by federal funds. The state is working to secure additional federal funds from the U.S. Treasury, but the timeline is unclear.
  • OHCS will notify landlords if an application is approved or denied.
  • Landlords will have access to compensation if a tenant is denied rental assistance after using the safe harbor protections through the Landlord Guarantee Program, which will receive $10 million from SB 5561.
  • The Legislature also allocated $100 million for eviction prevention efforts in the immediate and intermediate term. 

OHCS continues quickly processing OERAP applications with program administrators (LPAs) and its vendor Public Partnerships LLC (PPL) during the new application pause. OHCS continues quickly processing OERAP applications with program administrators (LPAs) and its vendor Public Partnerships LLC (PPL) during the new application pause. The state updates progress on applications at least once a week here

Fact Sheets

Sen. Kayse Jama fact sheet (Details of funding proposal subject to change)

Oregon Farm Bureau:

SALEM, OREGON, Dec. 13, 2021: The Oregon Farm Bureau today helped secure over $75 million in disaster aid from the Oregon Legislature to help producers who were impacted by the 2021 natural disasters. The funding includes $40 million in a direct assistance program for producers who experienced less than average farm income in 2021 due to natural disasters, nearly $14 million for irrigation districts impacted by drought, millions in domestic well assistance, and millions for drought resiliency. The program also includes $5 million for grasshopper and cricket eradication. The $40 million direct assistance program is structured as a forgivable loan, which will be forgiven if a producer’s revenue losses are demonstrated at the close of the year. The program will work through local lending institutions, so stay tuned for information on how to apply.

“The Oregon Farm Bureau and our partners have been working toward this package since early this summer, and we are grateful that the Legislature was able to secure its passage today,” said Mary Anne Cooper, VP of Government Affairs at the Oregon Farm Bureau. “Relief to producers impacted by this year’s natural disasters cannot come soon enough, and we look forward to working with the Oregon Department of Agriculture to get the direct assistance program up and running. We particularly want to thank the Governor for her diligent pursuit of this natural disaster package, and our advocates in the Legislature for being such strong advocates for its passage. We also want to thank the producers who wrote their legislators, advocated at the legislative hearings, and had their legislators out to see the damage natural disasters have had on their operations. This package would not have happened without their strong advocacy."

Oregon House Republican Caucus:

Second special session of 2021 highlights yet another state agency failure

SALEM, Ore. – Today Oregon House Republican Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson (R-Prineville) released a statement regarding the conclusion of the second special session of 2021. 

“This unnecessary special session was called because of yet another state agency failure,” said Leader Breese-Iverson. “Democrat state leaders have not addressed the numerous errors and mistakes at OHCS that are hurting Oregonians. This is a complete failure of leadership. House Republicans urge significant changes to these agencies under Democrat control. We call on the Governor to dramatically increase oversight to ensure this money gets to real people in need.”

“The additional legislation passed during this special session finally holds the state accountable to two promises we made earlier this year: action against illegal drug cartels in Southern Oregon and drought relief for farmers,” added Leader Breese-Iverson. “It’s unfair to Oregonians that this money was withheld for months. Democrats are more interested in chasing headlines with a special session, and as a result people continue to suffer while they wait.”

Legislation from Democrats prolongs drastic government disruption in rental housing to give more time and money to the ailing Oregon Housing and Community Services Department (OHCS). For months the agency failed to distribute timely relief to renters and property owners, promising improvements that never came despite millions of dollars from the Legislature.

Additional bills passed and was supported by House Republicans includes belated support for law enforcement to combat drug cartels operating illegal cannabis grow sites in Southern Oregon and long-awaited drought relief for farmers. Both legislative actions fulfill promises made earlier this year that Democrats unnecessarily delayed for months until the special session.

Legislature approves $18 million funding package for refugee resettlement and support
Oregon Department of Human Services - 12/13/21 7:10 PM

Need to know

  • Oregon has committed to resettling 1,200 Afghan arrivals, but existing federal funding does not provide adequate support for these efforts.
  • The Oregon Legislature has approved $18 million in funding to support emergency and ongoing refugee resettlement activities.
  • The funding package addresses gaps in federal funding that would have made it difficult for the state to meet immediate resettlement needs of Afghan arrivals.

(Salem) – During the December special session, the Oregon Legislature approved $18 million in funding for Afghan refugee resettlement efforts. This funding will help provide Afghan individuals and families resettling in Oregon with housing, education, legal aid, job training and other culturally responsive services.

The Oregon Department of Human Services’ (ODHS) Refugee Program administers federally funded cash and medical supports to refugees and individuals with eligible immigration statuses, and contracts with Resettlement Agencies (RAs) to provide initial resettlement services.

The United States is currently coordinating the relocation of more than 70,000 people following their evacuation from Afghanistan. Afghan families began arriving in Oregon this fall, and the number of arrivals will increase in the coming months. Oregon has committed to resettling 1,200 Afghan arrivals, but existing federal funding does not provide adequate support for these efforts. This newly approved funding will address critical resource gaps in the state’s resettlement plan.

Refugee resettlement activities declined during the previous administration due to lower annual refugee admissions, which in turn prompted a drawback of resources. The Biden Administration has since increased the number of refugees permitted to enter the United States, but funding and capacity have remained major issues. Senator Kayse Jama (D-Portland) and Representative Khanh Pham (D-Portland) have called for a compassionate response to evacuated Afghan allies, urging the state to address the gaps and create a strong foundation for refugees’ future in Oregon.

“We know that Afghan families and individuals coming to Oregon have experienced trauma,” said ODHS Director Fariborz Pakseresht. “We must be mindful that Afghan arrivals have left behind friends, family, cherished homes and established businesses to start a new life. They will become our neighbors, coworkers and productive members of our communities. We owe it to them to make their first days, weeks and months in Oregon as stress-free as possible, connecting them to quality and easy-to-navigate resources, from meals to jobs supports to connections with faith-based organizations.”

The approved $18 million in funding will enable the department to meet the immediate needs of Afghan arrivals while building back much-needed refugee resettlement infrastructure to accommodate the increase in arrivals from around the world. Funding includes allocations for the following:

  • Short-term housing and food assistance
  • Long-term housing assistance
  • Case management and community-based outreach and support
  • Legal services to seek permanent immigration status

“The state of Oregon has really stepped up to meet the needs of individuals and families from Afghanistan,” said Claire Seguin, deputy director of ODHS Self-Sufficiency Programs and the state’s refugee coordinator. “We began this year with three partner resettlement agencies, and now we have five. The level of commitment and the outpouring of community support has been astounding, in addition to the refugee support network that already existed. This funding, paired with so much thoughtful planning, allows us to channel that commitment into real supports for Afghan arrivals.”

The state’s Refugee Program assists refugees and individuals with qualifying immigration statuses. The program partners with Oregon’s five local refugee resettlement agencies (Catholic Charities, Lutheran Community Services Northwest, Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees, Salem for Refugees, and the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization) and other community partners to provide services. Statewide coordination of services and resources is provided by program staff. Learn more at:

Oregon Legislature passes SB 892 directing ODA to establish a disaster assistance program

Today, during the 2021 second special session, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 892 that directs the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) to establish a disaster assistance program. The Legislature awarded $40 million to this new, one-of-a-kind program to help mitigate economic losses farmers and ranchers sustained because of the compounding natural disasters in 2021, including the ice storm, heat dome event, and ongoing drought.

“I commend the Oregon Legislature and Governor Kate Brown for their firm support of SB 892,” said Alexis Taylor, Director, ODA. “Over the last two years, Oregon has experienced one natural disaster after another, with the pandemic on top of all of that. I have heard from so many Oregon farmers and ranchers who are concerned how they will make it through next year. The funds provided by SB 892 will keep many operations afloat until the USDA develops its federal disaster program that is expected to be announced by mid-2022. All of us at ODA will work as fast as we can to develop an application and distribution process to get these dollars to those in need.”

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack visited damaged berry farms in the Willamette Valley in August 2021, shortly after the heat dome event that brought temperatures up to 117 degrees. During his visit, he and Oregon Governor Kate Brown heard from local farmers and ranchers about the limitation and delay in federal disaster delivery. SB 892 allows ODA to contract with regional lenders to provide localized access to disaster assistance. The intent is to meet the unique needs of Oregon producers, for whom disaster assistance has not typically worked. 

SB 892 gives ODA the authority to contract with lending institutions to administer the disaster assistance program locally. The Legislature designed the loan program to act as a bridge loan or direct assistance while the upcoming federal program is developed. ODA intends to begin the implementation process immediately to serve Oregon's agricultural community.

For updates and news about the SB 892 Disaster Assistance Program please subscribe at will provide information as it becomes available. 

Article Topic Follows: Oregon-Northwest

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