The Oregon Legislature is convening for a special session today to address police accountability and COVID-19 response. It’s important to know that budget adjustments related to the pandemic will not be considered during this special session. State leaders are waiting to see what the next federal recovery package contains to avoid making unnecessary cuts to agency budgets.
Earlier this month, Legislative committees met to set the groundwork for the special sessions. Major updates include:
Employment Department – After several hours of legislative hearings brought more attention to the challenges at OED for both members and Oregonians who desperately need their benefits, Governor Kate Brown asked for and received the resignation of Director Kay Erickson. David Gerstenfeld, formerly the Paid Family Medical Leave Director, is now the Interim Director. SEIU members submitted 13 pieces of testimony for the record, helping drive the urgent need for major changes to clear the backlog and get people their checks.
Homecare and Personal Support Workers – SEIU continues to advocate for adequate PPE supply, sick time, and additional (hazard) pay for HCW/PSW. SEIU members were able to advocate for and receive funding for testing for HCW and PSW. While it is not enough, it is a step in the right direction to recognize that folks who serve our most vulnerable can’t do that work if they don’t know whether or not they may be carrying the virus.
Nursing Homes – After SEIU 503 nursing home workers advocated for testing in long-term care facilities, Governor Kate Brown announced that Oregon will implement a comprehensive coronavirus testing plan to protect the residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Nursing home owners received a 2.5% Medicaid increase for hazard pay and PTO and we have won letters of agreement to increase access to PTO at some facilities, but we still have work to do, including securing hazard pay, PTO, more staffing, and sufficient PPE for all long-term care and nursing home workers.
Department of Geology and Mineral Industries – Thanks to the work of SEIU members, DOGAMI was granted its second year budget in a hearing on Friday, June 5th. This means that the critical work of the Agency can continue next fiscal year.
Department of Human Services – Since the beginning of the COVID crisis, DHS has made changes to eligibility for a number of programs that help Oregonians, including Employment Related Daycare (ERDC) and SNAP benefits (food stamps). These changes will continue throughout the state of emergency. In addition to policies to help families, DHS has also worked with the Early Learning Division to issue a series of grants to child care providers to ensure they are able to stay open safely, or reopen to serve essential workers as soon as possible.
Oregon Youth Authority – Director Joe O’Leary has been holding COVID/budget meeting updates with represented SEIU/AFSCME staff and agency leaders and reports very few if any incidences of staff or youth infections over the last several months at the facilities. He also shared the Governor and CFO’s requests asking for another set of options that would reduce spending by 2% and 4% respectively. While much lower than the initial proposed $27 million in ‘allotment cuts’, the compounding impact of 2% and 4% over 2 years is really 4% and 8% in one year, which would be $5.8 million or $11.7 million. There were no agency-specific compensation reductions or furloughs, only possible cuts within each appropriation in the OYA budget.
As we continue to push the federal government to provide funding to avoid cuts to the state budget, the delay in agency budget conversations allows SEIU 503 members the opportunity to share our stories with legislators so they are aware of the impact of their decisions. Budgets aren’t just numbers; there are people behind every line item. Sharing the importance of our work and the personal impact of cuts can help compel decision-makers to prioritize preserving services our members provide. Click here to share your story and help protect your budget.
We’ll continue to update our members on this week’s special session and will let you know when the budget special session is scheduled.