Oregon Senate passes rental aid safety net, other bills, adjourns; special session work shifts to House

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By SARA CLINE
Associated Press/Report for America

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Senate wrapped up its special session work in less than a day on Monday and passed additional safety nets to keep thousands of people housed who are currently struggling to pay rent or are facing eviction during the pandemic. The House was taking up the measures in the afternoon

Senators passed a $215 million package — which includes $100 million for additional emergency rental assistance for both tenants and landlords and funds to help agencies that have had a hard time getting emergency money out the door to do so more quickly. With the Senate done by just after 3 p.m., the plan and other legislation now goes before the House.

“Since the start of this pandemic, our state has been committed to keeping Oregonians in their homes during this crisis by launching mortgage and rental assistance programs and enacting foreclosure and eviction protections,” said Sen. Kayse Jama, D-Portland, chair of the Senate Housing Committee.

More than 67,000 Oregon households recently reported they feel “not at all confident” they can cover next month’s bills, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau survey. Despite an overwhelming need, this month the statewide rental assistance program stopped taking new applications after all $289 million of federal funds have been requested and committed to renters. However, due to a backlog $119 million has yet to reach renter

Margaret Salazar, the director of the state’s Housing and Community Services, said on Monday she expected the remaining federal assistance will be administered to Oregon tenants by March 2022. In addition, she estimates that the additional state funded rental assistance would be administered by June 2022.

The Senate also voted to extend the current 60-day eviction protection period. The law, which the governor signed in June, grants renters a two-month period in which they cannot be evicted due to lack of payments, as long as they provide proof that they applied for aid.

However an estimated 8,355 households are at risk of eviction, as the safe harbor protection keeping them housed have expired as they continue to wait for aid from the state.

The extension allows eviction protections to remain in place for a tenant until their application has been processed — and not limited to 60 days.

GOP lawmakers say that “after repeated failures by Oregon’s housing department to timely implement a rental assistance program” Republicans have reached a bipartisan agreement with majority Democrats to fix the problem and protect landlords and renters.

“When we first started, we were miles apart,” said Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend. “We were not willing to entertain coming in to pass legislation that we believed would do long-term damage to the rental housing market.”

As part of the agreement, $5 million will be directed to the Oregon Housing and Community Services to speed up the processing of assistance applications and $10 million will be placed into the Landlord Guarantee Fund.

But keeping Oregonians housed were not the only bills that passed with bipartisan support in the Senate. Others were drought relief, illegal cannabis proliferation and support for Afghan refugee resettlement.

One bill that received unanimous support from the Senate was $25 million for a comprehensive, statewide plan to address the proliferation of illegal cannabis around the state and ease the associated humanitarian impacts in Oregon.

Authorities say that thousands of immigrants working on southern Oregon illegal marijuana farms that are run by foreign cartels are living in squalid conditions and are sometimes being cheated and threatened by their gangland bosses.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg. Colleague’s human trafficking and human-labor trafficking is happening. People are housed in squalor conditions. It’s just appalling,” Knopp said. “Farm workers deserve so much better. But unfortunately, this borders on slavery.”

Lawmakers also passed $100 million to help Oregonians impacted by this summer’s extreme heat and drought conditions.


Here are news releases issued by lawmakers on Monday:

Senate President Peter Courtney On Sine Die of the 2nd Special Session of 2021

SALEM, Ore. – The Oregon State Senate adjourned for the 2nd Special Session of the 2021 Legislature at 3:10 p.m. on Monday, December 13, 2021. Senate President Peter Courtney issued the following statement:

“Two weeks ago I said I hoped we’d be ready for today. There was no plan. No agreement. Success was not guaranteed. Your Legislature worked hard since that day.

“Today, we helped tenants stay in their homes while keeping landlords whole. We sent relief to farmers and ranchers who have been hurt by the drought. We provided money to support Afghan refugees arriving in Oregon. And we took a big step forward in the fight against illegal marijuana operations.

“Oregonians can be proud of their legislators today… Democrat and Republican. We came together to send relief… hope… to Oregonians in crisis.”


Two releases from the Senate Majority Office:

Senate Democrats Pass Legislation to Prevent Evictions and Keep Oregonians Housed

SALEM – Today, the Oregon Senate convened in a Special Session of the Legislature to vote on and pass Senate Bill 891, legislation that will prevent thousands of evictions during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and upcoming winter months. The bill extends the safe harbor period for tenants who have applied for rental assistance and provides support for Oregon’s rental assistance program.

“Since the start of this pandemic, our state has been committed to keeping Oregonians in their homes during this crisis by launching mortgage and rental assistance programs and enacting foreclosure and eviction protections,” said Senator Kayse Jama (D-Portland), chair of the Senate Housing Committee and a lead proponent of SB 891. “Today we passed SB 891 to prevent evictions of tenants who are waiting for assistance, as well as allowing more tenants to apply for assistance and ensuring landlords are fully paid.”

Senate Bill 891 extends the “safe harbor” provisions in Senate Bill 278 from the end of February 2022 to June 30, 2022. The “safe harbor” will last while their rental assistance application is being processed, but no later than September 30, 2022.

The Senate also passed Senate Bill 5561, which contains allocations and investments in key priorities for Senate Democrats, includes:

  • $100 million in additional emergency rental assistance to ensure low-income tenants have access to housing in the winter.
  • $100 million to support partnerships with existing programs as Oregon transitions from large-scale pandemic-related emergency rental assistance to long-term, locally-delivered eviction prevention services.
  • An additional $10 million to the Landlord Guarantee Fund to reimburse landlords for non-payment of rent and other fees incurred during the safe harbor period.
  • $5 million to speed up the delivery of federal funds

“Senate Democrats stepped up to ensure that Oregonians from across the state—whether they live in a rural, suburban or urban community—will all benefit from these important housing protections,” said Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego). “I commend the crucial work by the Legislature’s Housing Committee Chairs, Senator Kayse Jama and Representative Julie Fahey, and thank them for working diligently to protect vulnerable Oregonians.”

Senate Bill 891 and Senate Bill 5561 will now move to the Oregon House of Representatives for consideration.


Senate Passes Drought Relief Package to Support Rural Communities

SALEM – Today, the Oregon Senate passed a $100 million funding package to provide relief and support to rural Oregon communities reeling from ongoing drought and recent wildfires. Senate Bill 892 and Senate Bill 5561 will make investments across Oregon to help communities that were hit hard by these crises and mitigate future drought impacts.

“Earlier this year, we passed a massive water package to help communities develop adequate groundwater infrastructure. Today we are following up on that investment with a relief package to address this year’s severe drought and its impact on agricultural businesses and workers,” said Senator Kathleen Taylor (D-Portland), chair of the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Natural Resources. “We are seeing the impacts of climate change across Oregon, and it is very important that we do all we can to prepare for the challenges ahead.”

The drought relief package included in SB 892 and SB 5561 includes:

  • $40 million for an agricultural forgivable disaster loan program;
  • $12 million for the Klamath Basin for domestic well assistance;
  • $9.7 million to address drought relief on Klamath Tribal lands;
  • $10 million for agricultural workers who miss work due to unsafe working conditions resulting from extreme heat or smoke
  • Other targeted investments in drought relief and resiliency

“Senate Democrats continue to fight for critical investments in rural Oregon. Today we voted to ensure rural communities have the resources they need to respond to terrible drought and wildfire impacts,” said Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner (D-Lake Oswego). “We strongly support Oregon’s agricultural community, farmworkers and Tribes and we will continue to work toward solutions as we prepare for the 2022 Legislative Session.”

Senate Bill 892 and Senate Bill 5561 will now go to the Oregon House of Representatives for consideration.


Four news releases from Oregon Senate Republicans:

As Cartels Exploit Border Crisis to Terrorize Southern Oregon, Republican Plan Clears Senate

SALEM, Ore. – Joe Biden’s border crisis has planted roots in Southern Oregon as cartels engage in large-scale humanitarian crimes. These cartels have engaged in human trafficking, murder, assault, stolen water during extreme heat and drought, and have engaged in illegal marijuana trafficking that seeks to profit at the expense of legitimate Oregon businesses.

“It is clear that law enforcement needs more help to stop these dangerous illegal operations,” said Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend). “This package gives our county partners the resources they need to hire the law enforcement and water masters to oversee the huge task they have in front of them.  No matter how much we spend, we will continue to spin our wheels in this fight against the cartels if the southern border remains wide open. Human trafficking will continue, the violence against Oregonians will continue, and Oregon businesses will continue to pay the price until these illegal grow sites are completely eradicated from our state.

“For the health and well-being of Oregon, President Biden and Congress must immediately address the humanitarian crisis at the border. Oregonians’ lives, livelihoods, waterways, and human dignity are on the line. 

The Senate passed SB 893 by a vote of 28-0 and will now be considered by the House.


Republican Priorities Included in Special Session Appropriations Bill

SALEM, Ore. – The Senate passed an appropriations package Monday that includes, at the request of Senate Republicans, investments into affordable housing. Included in the package is $14 million for affordable housing in 14 Oregon cities. This money is earmarked for addressing housing insecurity, lack of affordable housing, or homelessness.

“The homelessness crisis has only worsened,” Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend). “This money will help our homeless populations transition into lives of purpose by providing them with transitional housing. Housing alone will not solve this problem, however. Drug treatment, mental health treatment, and real enforcement are required to make meaningful progress on this issue.”

Spearheaded by Senator Bill Hansell (R-Athena), the omnibus funding bill also creates a grant program to help outdoor recreation outfitter guides recover from lost business due to drought, wildfire, or COVID-19.

“These outdoor guides are critical to our rural tourism economy, but because of the drought and wildfires these businesses were heavily impacted,” said Senator Hansell. “This money will help them recover from these natural disasters so they can continue to support our economy for years to come.”

At the request of Senate Republicans, the funding bill will also release $19 million in funding for better reimbursement rates to dentists who provide services to low-income Oregonians. At the beginning of the year, OHA cut reimbursement rates by 11% to these providers, which threaten the access to care for those on the Oregon Health Plan. The $19 million will help recoup nearly half of the loss of funding to the system because of the cut.

The Senate passed SB 5561 on a vote of 26-2 and will now be considered by the House.


Bipartisan Housing Plan Will Bring End to Pandemic Housing Policy

SALEM, Ore. – Since the beginning of the pandemic, Republicans have stood up for working families who were forced into unemployment by the Governor’s extreme lockdowns. Because they were unable to work and pay their rent, the extreme housing policies have destabilized the housing market, leading to the justification for this special session.

Housing providers have gone months without being able to pay their bills. Oregon Housing and Community Services has failed for months to get timely assistance to Oregon renters and housing providers. Senate Republicans were instrumental in including provisions into the housing bill that will correct the failures of the agency, and chart a path back to normalcy in Oregon’s rental housing market.

“This bill will put us on a track to end the extreme government overreach that has led to thousands being unable to pay their rent,” said Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend). “It will put some stability back into the housing market by closing the book on pandemic housing policy and ensuring housing providers are made whole.

“OHCS has told us that the $5 million included in the package will help them simplify and speed up the application process so Oregonians can get the assistance they are due. If the failures at the agency persist, it’s clear that we need a new Director overseeing this agency. This money belongs to housing providers and the funds must be allocated to those that need it and in the way it was intended. I have requested that an audit of this agency occur to ensure these failures never happen again. Accountability and accuracy are critical.

“Oregonians want a check on these kinds of extreme government overreach that disrupt their lives. The persistent failures of the housing department are just the latest example of the desperate need for balance and accountability in Salem.”

The Senate passed SB 891 by a vote of 22-6 and will now be considered by the House.


Bipartisan Bill Honors Debt to Afghan Refugees

SALEM, Ore. – After President Biden’s chaotic and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan, Afghans who risked their lives to help American troops fight terrorism were left behind. In the coming months, Oregon will welcome 1,200 of these refugees to our state.

Today the Senate passed the appropriations bill which included an allocation of $18 million to help those refugees find housing and jobs in Oregon.

“We owe a debt to these Afghan refugees,” said Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp (R-Bend). “They risked their lives for the cause of freedom. We should welcome them with open arms and help them create meaningful lives here in Oregon. This was a great bipartisan concern that was on the agenda for the Emergency Board to take up for quite some time. I am proud that we were able to get it done during this special session.”

Senate Bill 5561 passed the Senate by a vote of 26-2 and will now be considered by the House.

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