Second Special Session Focused on Rebalancing State Budget
Prior to Monday’s (August 10th) Second Special Session of 2020, we asked Oregon Legislators to support the following framework as they considered budget decisions impacting children and families across the state: center racial equity in all budget decisions, avoid blanket funding cuts, make full use of federal dollars, strategically access reserve funds, and improve the public process.
Framework application uneven during a whirlwind, nearly 15-hour session
The Legislature set out to close a gap of about $1.2 billion. They were able to pass a series of budget bills on Monday that rebalanced the 2019-2021 state budget by making ~$400 million in reductions, tapping $440 million in one-time funds and resource adjustments, and drawing down $400 million from the constitutionally dedicated Education Stability Fund to protect both the State School Fund and other education investments.
The Legislature did avoid across-the-board cuts, leveraged federal funds, and strategically utilized reserves. General fund dollars that had been allocated by the Emergency Board, in some cases, were switched to federal Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) dollars, as part of $440 million in resource adjustments.
Racial equity lens difficult to see without a transparent process
It was harder to assess whether racial equity was truly centered during the Special Session as the public process lacked transparency and community engagement. No verbal testimony was accepted during any committee hearings, and bills were only posted over the weekend, leaving little time for community members to respond with written testimony. This noted, funding was retained for the Early Childhood Equity Fund and the Student Success Plans for Black/African American students, American Indian/Alaskan Native students, and Latino/a/x students. Additionally, $4.2 million was allocated to complete an emergency request from the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs for critical components of their water infrastructure improvement plan. In July, the Emergency Board allocated $3.6 million to finance a number of specific improvements. Major improvements are still needed to support the health of residents of the Warm Springs Reservation.
Education, early-childhood, child welfare, family supports, and housing-related programs prioritized
Education and early-childhood
The K-12 State School Fund remains at $9 billion, with the transfer of $400 million from the Education Stability Fund. Many of the investments from the 2019 Student Success Act continue (see above), $246 million for statewide initiatives including the High School Success Fund (Ballot Measure 98), and $150 million for local plans with an emphasis on supporting the social and emotional health of students.
Early learning programs were allocated $170.5 million for the Early Learning Account of the Student Success Act–an amount that is very close to what was promised in the 2019 session. However, budget cuts will impact Early Learning Hubs ($1.3 million), Healthy Families Oregon ($1 million), and Focused Child Care Networks ($900,000).
Recent investments in child welfare staffing, new programs, and legal services to stabilize programs will be largely maintained with only minimal reductions. Additionally, $1 million was authorized for child advocacy centers to provide trauma-informed services and examinations for children who have experienced child abuse.
Health and family supports
Many programs within the Oregon Health Authority and the Department of Human Services were maintained due to the increased federal FMAP (Federal Medical Assistance Percentages) rate passed by Congress as part of the COVID response. One area of concern is that $14 million in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) resources were moved from targeted pilots to more general program support. The pilot programs established in 2019 by the legislature are an acknowledgment that for years Oregon has underinvested in children and families experiencing extreme economic hardship, in part, by diverting federal TANF funds to non-TANF purposes. As a first step in reversing this pattern, the 2019 legislature created pilot programs to inform future decisions about investing the on-going federal dollars in a manner that would help TANF families with the highest barriers. The elimination of the housing and employment pilots is a step backwards.
Housing stabilization programs, including the Emergency Housing Assistance and State Homeless Assistance programs, were maintained in the budget with an additional $50 million in bonding approved to provide affordable housing for low-income Oregonians through the Local Innovation and Fast Track (LIFT) Housing Program.
Beyond the budget
Outside of tackling the budget, the Legislature also passed two bills to strengthen the unemployment insurance program. SB 1701 expands the ability of Oregonians to work part-time without having their unemployment benefits reduced and SB 1703 streamlines the verification process during the current emergency. Additionally, HB 4301 was passed which limits the use of chokeholds by law enforcement and updates Oregon’s obsolete deadly use-of-force statute to be current with Supreme Court case law.
- The Joint Committee on Transparent Policing and Use of Force Reform will continue to work on a range of issues to continue to address the racism deeply embedded in our law enforcement infrastructure.
- The next Oregon revenue forecast is scheduled to be released on September 23, which may require additional budget adjustments to the 2019-21 state budget.
- Planning for the 2021 Legislative session has begun with the first deadline to start the process for 2021 legislation in September.
We will continue to turn to the leadership of the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities to support and amplify their work to address systemic racism; we encourage legislators and community members to do the same. As we amplify community voices and solutions, we must target resources to address disparities including among BIPOC, disability, LQBTQIA, and rural communities.