Which Oregon Companies Use Tax Dollars to Pay Their Workers?

April 30, 2007By Chuck Sheketoff

It would be good to know which Oregon businesses pay their employees so little or offer so few benefits that their employees must rely on food stamps, Medicaid, and other taxpayer-supported public services to get by.

Related materials:

Public benefits at Ohio employers: An initial analysis (PDF) by Policy Matters Ohio, discussing the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services report.

Fueled in part by efforts to expose the low pay and benefits of the nation’s largest employer, Wal-Mart, more than a dozen state governments have compiled lists of companies that have the highest share of employees who must rely on state health insurance programs or other public benefits because their paycheck and benefits are insufficient.

Having similar information for Oregon would be a big help to policymakers here in figuring out trends in the use of public services and in identifying good corporate citizens to recruit to the state.

Unfortunately, Oregon’s policymakers do not have this information because the Oregon Department of Human Services has stubbornly refused to pull together the figures.

A bill pending in Salem – HB 3252 – would direct the Department to produce annual reports showing which employers shift the costs of the basic needs of employees to Oregon’s taxpayer-supported public assistance system. The bill would change no law because there’s no law preventing the Department of Human Services from creating the report today. The Department just needs the will to do it, or a clear instruction from the Legislature that they can’t ignore.

There’s an unfortunate saying in the state Capitol that if an agency likes a bill, they say it will cost little or nothing to implement it, but if they don’t like it, they say it will cost a lot in an attempt to sink the measure. While the Department initially tried to kill the bill by attaching a large price tag, legislators are smart enough to know that no appropriation is needed to do the work.

The Department starts each biennium with adequate administrative staff to undertake both planned and unplanned projects. Producing the HB 3252 report could be added to the planned list for the upcoming budget period and just leave a little less available time for unplanned work. No appropriation beyond what’s in the proposed budget is needed.

The Ohio human services agency completed a study without a special appropriation, even though they faced similar challenges. Like Oregon, Ohio has a somewhat out-of-date computer system and, like Oregon's Department of Human Services, the Ohio human services agency seeks and obtains the names of the employers of public assistance recipients but enters the information into non-searchable fields, not data fields that are easily used in analysis.

While Ohio's public assistance system is significantly larger with more caseworkers and more public assistance recipients, for all practical purposes they faced the same challenge that Oregon faces today in creating a report similar to that required by HB 3252.

Yet, Ohio did it. And they didn't need a legislative appropriation to do so. The costs were so minimal they didn't even keep track of them. Apparently, like Oregon, they have staff time allocated to undertake unplanned work, and Ohio did their report within those resources.

HB 3252 would shed light on which Oregon businesses deserve to be promoted by state officials, and which are taxing the public assistance system. And as Ohio has demonstrated, Oregon can get out of the dark without increasing the size of the state budget by enacting HB 3252.

Chuck Sheketoff is the Executive Director at the Oregon Center for Public Policy, which does in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues with the goal to improve decision making and generate more opportunities for all Oregonians.