On December 1, Gov. Kate Brown revealed her budget proposal for the next two years, which calls for $100.2 billion in spending for things like criminal justice reform, broadband expansion, and wildlife recovery. But the overarching goals of the budget seem to be in direct response to the coronavirus pandemic, from the economic impact on small businesses and individuals to the modernization of the state’s public health system. Of course, as an industry disproportionally affected by COVID-19, the Oregon restaurant world’s ability to recover will rely heavily on some of the programs and items outlined in the budget, from quarantine funds to rent assistance.
Some of the most noteworthy budget items are specifically targeted to help unemployed workers, including a $146.4 million re-haul of the Employment Department’s benefits system. The wave of unemployment claims that hit the state toward the beginning of the pandemic created massive backlogs and lengthy wait times for Oregonians out of work, some of whom waited months to receive any sort of benefits from the state. Many of those workers came from newly shuttered restaurants: Back in April, around 80 percent of Oregon restaurant workers had been laid off or furloughed, according to a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association. As national funding stalls and many restaurant owners grapple with the realities of operating under safety regulations during the winter, improving our current benefits system could be crucial for the industry as more people lose jobs. That $146 million would be set aside to modernize that system, in addition to funds allotted for paid family leave insurance benefits.
The budget would allocate money for some of the COVID-era quarantine and unemployment funds, including the Oregon Worker Relief Fund, which provides financial assistance to Oregon workers who are ineligible for things like unemployment payments, and COVID-19 temporary paid leave, which distributes $120 per day for those who have exhausted their paid leave provided by their employer.
The governor’s budget proposal also deliberately states that the state needs more significant federal stimulus funding to address the economic aftermath of COVID-19. “It’s a budget built on sacrifices and hard choices,” Brown said in a press conference. “It doesn’t go far enough to heal the pain of 2020. We need the federal government to step up.” She’s hoping to set aside $350 million in federal funding for long-term rent assistance.
The legislature will tackle this proposed budget when it reconvenes in 2021.
• 2021-2023 Recommended Budget Summary [Official]
• Oregon leaders squandered years on jobless benefits computer upgrade. Now the project’s future is again in doubt [O]
• How Coronavirus Is Impacting the Portland Restaurant World [EPDX]