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How is Congress supporting public services in Oregon during the coronavirus pandemic?

Resource page
April 15, 2020

[Updated on May 19, 2020.]*

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and resulting economic crash, Congress has passed multiple response bills since the pandemic began. The largest is the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The 880-page bill includes provisions ranging from relief checks to individuals, a boost in payments to unemployed workers, and hundreds of billions of dollars in support for small and large businesses. The CARES Act and other bills also contain support for public services in our communities.

Here we summarize what we currently know about how the federal coronavirus response legislation supports public services in Oregon and Oregonians. It will take more time to fully untangle what Oregon will receive in federal assistance. Also, our understanding of the several bills will evolve as new administrative guidance becomes available. But in the interest of getting out important information to Oregonians, we share below our current understanding. We will update this document in the days and weeks to come.

State and local budget support

Education

Housing

Child care

Healthcare

Transportation

Direct Cash Assistance

Aid to “Small” Businesses

Tribal Impacts

Unemployment Insurance

Food Assistance

State and local budget support

The most significant assistance for state and local budgets from the CARES Act is the Coronavirus Relief Fund, totaling $150 billion. State and local governments in Oregon will receive about $1.6 billion in funding to support costs related to the coronavirus pandemic. Only local governments with more than 500,000 residents are eligible, leaving only three jurisdictions in Oregon to receive direct allocations, including Multnomah County ($28 million), Washington County ($105 million), and Portland ($114 million). The state government is expected to get the remaining $1.4 billion. This leaves out cities, counties, and districts across the state that are spending money to address this public health emergency, although the Oregon Legislative Emergency Board had discussed spreading out the funds.

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Education

Separate from the funds for state and local governments to fight the pandemic, the CARES Act provides funding for K-12 and higher education systems. School districts, colleges and universities in Oregon are expected to receive a total of about $292 million. School districts are expected to receive $121 million to support K-12 education, while public and private colleges and universities together will get about $138 million. Additionally, Governor Kate Brown is expected to have access to more than $32 million to distribute to K-12 and higher education schools that have been particularly affected by the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis.

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Housing

The CARES Act also provides funds to keep people housed during the crisis. It is unclear how most of the $12 billion allocated for housing programs will be distributed, though details have emerged for some programs. Jurisdictions across the state will initially receive more than $21 million in Community Development Block Grant funding, which can be used to support rent or mortgage payments for up to three months, among other potential uses. Emergency Solutions Grants, designated for emergency homeless shelters, eviction prevention, and other housing services, will route more than $10 million to jurisdictions in Oregon.

Public housing authorities (PHA) across the state are facing increased costs because their tenants have lost income and they face additional expenses related to the pandemic. The CARES Act adds $3 billion to help meet that need nationally, but it is not yet clear how much funding PHAs in Oregon will receive. While the explicit amounts above are just the initial distributions of the housing resources allocated in the CARES Act, it’s safe to say that far more is needed to help Oregonians stay housed.

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Child Care

Oregon’s child care industry has now been hit hard by social distancing measures — some have had to close while others continue to provide crucial care under heightened safety rules. The CARES Act includes increased funding through the Child Care and Development Block Grant to help child care providers remain open or reopen when feasible, and provide child care assistance to the children of workers deemed essential during this crisis. Oregon is expected to receive $38 million in funding.

The additional federal funding modestly helps address the emergency need, while leaving intact the structural issues that make quality, affordable child care possible only for well-off households in Oregon. The cost of child care remains a budget-busting proposition for most Oregon families.

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Healthcare

Every coronavirus response bill has included support for healthcare in Oregon. The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, the first coronavirus response bill passed by Congress, is expected to send Oregon $10 million via the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to support the public health response to the coronavirus pandemic. The same legislation also allocates more than $23 million to health centers throughout the state.

The second federal coronavirus related bill, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, increased Medicaid funding to states. The legislation did this by increasing the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) by 6.2 percentage points. This means the federal government will shoulder an even bigger share of the costs of the Oregon Health Plan, Oregon’s Medicaid program. The additional funds are for a period that starts January 1, 2020 and runs until the end of the public health emergency. If the public health emergency lasts to December 31, 2020, Oregon is expected to receive an additional $420 million.

There is still significant uncertainty on how most of the funding included in the CARES Act will be allotted to agencies and health providers in Oregon, including about $70 billion in national allocations to reimburse for health care related expenses. The CDC is expected to send Oregon another $8 million in an expansion of the funding stream mentioned above. Also, of the $30 billion in immediate support allocated nationally, [$291 million] (https://republicans-waysandmeansforms.house.gov/uploadedfiles/first_distribution_summary_by_state.pdf). will be allocated to 3,454 Oregon hospitals and healthcare providers based on their share of the total Medicare fee-for-service payments.

The newest bill, the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, added $75 billion to reimburse health care providers nationwide. How much of this money Oregon will receive is currently unclear.

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Transportation

Efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus, including social distancing and business and school closures, have damaged the funding for many transportation agencies. For transit agencies, reduced ridership and resources are the new normal. The national estimate for lost revenue for transit agencies is between $26 billion and $40 billion. Here in Oregon, rural and urban transit agencies are expected to receive about $285 million in support. Further, dozens of airports across Oregon are set to receive $140 million, with Portland International Airport receiving just over half of that distribution.

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Direct Cash Assistance

In addition to funding for public services, the CARES Act provides direct cash assistance to individuals and families through “Economic Impact Payments.” Individuals making less than $75,000 (or $150,000 for joint filers) are eligible for a $1,200 payment, with a phase-out for higher earners. Filers with dependent children under the age of 17 receive an additional $500 for each child. As of May 8, less than 1.7 million payments totaling nearly $2.8 billion have gone to Oregonians. If every eligible Oregonian eventually receives their rebate check, that would mean an additional $3.8 billion in funding flowing into Oregon. The average payment for Oregon households is estimated to be $1,730. Return to top

Aid to “Small” Businesses

The CARES Act provided $350 billion in forgivable loans to “small” businesses. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) allows small businesses, defined as businesses with less than 500 employees (with some exceptions), to receive a loan based on regular payroll costs. These loans can be forgiven if the business retains employees and uses the funds on payroll-related costs and other essential business expenses like utilities.

The rollout of the PPP has been rocky. Many banks were unprepared to handle the loans when they became available. The PPP also quickly ran out of funds. Congress appropriated an additional $310 billion in funding for the program, although more than half of the funds have already been loaned out.

As of May 8, over 54,000 Oregon businesses had been approved for a PPP loan, for a total of about $7 billion allocated in the first and second round of PPP funding. This covers about 78 percent of eligible payroll costs in the state. Oregon has received one of the lowest distributions from the PPP as a percentage of eligible payroll, with only 8 states receiving a lower percentage. Return to top

Tribal Impacts

“American Indian and Alaska Native families are more vulnerable to the pandemic than U.S. residents overall due to the legacies of colonialism, racism, and the federal government’s failure to support these communities’ social and economic well-being,” Joshuah Marshall from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently explained. This is true not just across the nation, but here in Oregon.

It is currently unclear how much support tribal governments in Oregon will receive from the coronavirus relief bills passed by Congress. Nationally, tribal governments are set to share $8 billion in resources, yet it is unclear how these funds will be split between the nearly 600 tribal governments across the country. Furthermore, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education received $522 million to distribute, but the agency has yet to disclose how it will allocate those funds. Additionally, Oregon tribes will receive $5.1 million in Indian Housing Block Grants.

Despite the uncertainty about the share flowing to Oregon tribes, it is clear that the funding Congress has made available is unlikely to be enough to address the impacts of this crisis on tribal communities. Tribal leaders have already asked for more assistance. Return to top

Unemployment Insurance

The CARES Act fully funds an expansion of Unemployment Insurance (UI), a system primarily financed and administered by states within guidelines set at the federal level. The CARES Act temporarily increases UI benefit amounts by an additional $600 per week to everyone receiving UI benefits; it provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits that kick in after a worker has exhausted the usual 26 weeks of benefits; and temporarily expands UI to workers not previously covered. These newly-covered categories of workers include self-employed workers (including independent contractors), workers seeking part-time work, and workers who do not have a long enough work history to qualify for state benefits. Regrettably, the CARES Act does not extend unemployment insurance to undocumented workers.

In addition, the CARES Act provides an incentive for states to eliminate the “waiting week,” an outdated rule that delays benefits reaching workers and lowers total benefits received for many. States eliminating the waiting week will be fully reimbursed by the federal government for benefits paid for that week, as well as administrative costs associated with providing the benefits. After initially rejecting this option, Oregon agreed to eliminate its waiting week.

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Food Assistance

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), enacted in March 2020, strengthens the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s first line of defense against hunger. The FFCRA increases the amount of SNAP benefits that households can receive; it temporarily lifts the 3-month limit on SNAP benefits that had restricted food aid for many working-age people without children living in their home; and it enables states to provide additional SNAP benefits for households with children who are eligible to receive free or reduced-price school meals. The federal legislation also allows Oregon to simplify applying for SNAP benefits, making it better suited for this period of social distancing, and to launch an on-line food purchasing pilot program.

Congress also approved funds to shore up emergency food distributed through food pantries. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provided $400 million, and the CARES Act provided $450 million. It is unclear what share of that is available to Oregon. Return to top

Again, our analysis of the federal support for Oregonians and state and local public services in Oregon is ongoing. If you know of something we missed, please contact Daniel Hauser ([email protected]).