Gov. Brown says Oregon may have trouble providing ‘basic services’
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Gov. Kate Brown said Tuesday that she is ‘gravely concerned’ about Oregon’s ability to deliver basic services over the next six months to a year because of the economic fallout from statewide closures, massive lay-offs by affected businesses and stay-at-home orders aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
“The bottom line … is that we have far more needs than we have resources and the economy is tumbling down and we don’t know what that will look like until we have the forecast in mid-May,” she said in a conference with reporters.
“I am gravely concerned about our ability to deliver basic services over the next six months to a year given the drop in revenues and that’s why I am encouraging the Legislature to be extremely fiscally prudent,” Brown said.
Also Tuesday, the Oregon Health Authority said three more Oregonians had died, bringing the state’s death total to eight. Eighteen more cases were confirmed, bringing the state total to 209.
Brown plans to call a special session of the Legislature as early as next week to earmark $250 million for the COVID-19 response and to insure there is enough money for the upcoming wildfire season, she said.
The full damage to Oregon’s revenue won’t be clear until mid-May, when the revenue forecast comes out. State lawmakers have also expressed concerns, saying a spike in unemployment means far less money coming into Oregon coffers through an income tax.
A decision on whether to push back the state’s April 15 tax filing deadline for Oregon returns should come by the end of the week, she said.
Oregon’s economy was booming before the arrival of COVID-19, with unemployment rates at record lows and a $1.5 billion tax surplus. That triggered Oregon’s unique “kicker” law which gave Oregonians a tax surplus credit that can be claimed on state income tax returns.
The state budget approved by the Legislature last year provides $85.8 billion in total funds for the 2019-2021 biennium, an increase of $7.8 billion — or nearly 10% — over the previous budget.
One casualty of the state’s revenue woes will likely be an overhaul of the child welfare system, which came under fire for placing foster care children in out-of-state facilities where they were mistreated. Recommendations on how to reform the system that were made in the wake of the scandal could be affected, Brown said.
“It is going to be really challenging over the next few months to get the resources to implement those recommendations,” she said. “I just have to be up front with people.”
Brown also said Tuesday that the Oregon Medical Board had implemented emergency rules to make it easier for retired or inactive doctors and health care workers to return to the job and for volunteer-only doctors to resume working for pay.
Those who practice out-of-state can now practice in Oregon without previous restrictions.
The move could free up as many as 500 providers statewide, although it’s up to individual practitioners to decide if they want to go back to work, she said.
“We’ve got retired folks who are willing to reactivate their licenses. You’re literally putting your lives on the line to protect Oregonians and we are incredibly grateful,” she said, speaking directly to healthcare workers.
Brown has previously ordered all schools statewide to close until April 28. Restaurants and bars are also closed for dine-in service, but can offer carryout or delivery. And Brown’s executive order on Monday means all Oregonians must stay at home if at all possible.
Grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential businesses will remain open during the shutdown, but a huge swatch of businesses from nail salons to gyms to bowling alleys were closed. Outdoor playgrounds, basketball courts and sport courts are also shut down.
It’s unclear when that order will be lifted, Brown said Tuesday, and it could also be made more restrictive if people don’t comply.
For most people, the new virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority recover.
Oregon’s sixth COVID-19 death was a 78-year-old man in Clackamas County, who tested positive on March 15, and died March 22 at Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center. He had underlying medical conditions.
The seventh death was a 63-year-old man in Multnomah County, who had underlying medical conditions and was not hospitalized at the time of death. He tested positive on March 16, and died March 23.
Oregon’s final death was a 90-year-old woman in Washington County, who tested positive on March 19, and died March 23 at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center. She had underlying medical conditions.