Oregon committee approves millions in emergency funding

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A key Oregon legislative committee has approved millions of dollars in funding for urgent issues facing the state, ranging from public defense to affordable housing to grasshopper and cricket suppression.

The commission overseeing the state’s embattled public defense system will receive $100 million, the largest slice of funds. The Public Service Defense Commission, in charge of the state’s public defenders, has been grappling with a shortage of lawyers and a backlog of cases.

Oregon’s Emergency Board provides needed funds to state agencies during the interim between legislative sessions.

The Statesman Journal reports that the committee on Friday also allocated $30 million for a health insurance program for long-term care providers. They noted that health coverage can often be unaffordable or unavailable for such workers, despite their outsized role providing health care to at-risk individuals during the pandemic.

Another $5 million was approved for Portland’s housing authority Home Forward. The agency administers grants to affordable housing providers with outstanding debt due to rents gone unpaid during the pandemic. Republicans largely agreed with the funding but opposed the way in which it was requested. Under committee rule, such requests must come through state agencies and not from lawmakers.

Lawmakers also committed $1.2 million to cricket and grasshopper suppression in rural regions. The insects swarmed parts of Oregon in 2020 and 2021, with some lawmakers describing them as “plague-like.”

In total, 69 items were passed by the Democrat-controlled committee.

Republicans said the funds approved Friday should have focused more on the emergencies they contend Oregonians care most about.

“Inflation, violent crime, drug use and homelessness are all rapidly rising in Oregon and today was a missed opportunity by Democratic leadership to address true emergencies and provide solutions to these critical issues,” said House Republican Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville.