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Oregon lawmakers considering hundreds of millions in budget additions to pay for pandemic and wildfire responses, homelessness services

UPDATED: Wed., March 17, 2021

By Hillary Borrud The Oregonian

Oregon lawmakers are working on hundreds of millions of dollars in additions to the state’s $24 billion budget, three months before the end of the budget cycle.

Among the biggest adds is $262 million in state general funds to pay for summer school, summer enrichment programs and childcare. Lawmakers also want to spend $20 million to help open seven “navigation centers” around the state to help people experiencing homelessness find long-term housing and services such as behavioral health treatment. That’s part of a larger package of changes that House Speaker Tina Kotek, D- Portland, is advocating to address homelessness.

House Bill 5042, known as an omnibus budget rebalance, would reduce authorized general fund spending by a net of $21.5 million, Interim Legislative Fiscal Officer Laurie Byerly told lawmakers on the Ways and Means Joint Subcommittee On Capital Construction Wednesday morning.

Increases in spending on items such as summer programming for kids would be offset by lawmakers canceling more than $300 million in unused general fund spending authority for the emergency board, a committee of lawmakers that meets between legislative sessions to approve spending from a limited pot of money. The board has approved large outlays of taxpayer funds during the pandemic, such as a $25 million grant to Jackson County that lawmakers signed off on in January for the county to build or acquire affordable and mixed income housing to replace homes lost in 2020 wildfires.

In addition to the $262 million in state money for K-12 summer schooling, enrichment and childcare, lawmakers want to dole out $41 million to the Oregon Community Foundation to fund K-12 summer enrichment programs and parent-child summer programming for infants through age 5.

With the Capital Construction subcommittee’s approval of the omnibus budget rebalance and related bills on Wednesday morning, the full Ways and Means committee is scheduled to hold a work session and possible vote on those bills on Friday morning.

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