Legislative board distributes emergency funding, prepares for federal allocations
Friday, April 24, 2020
The Legislature’s Emergency Board met Thursday, April 23, in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The committee, commonly called the “E-board,” allocated approximately $30 million from state reserves. The committee also took the procedural step of increasing expenditure limitations, meaning the amount of money an agency can spend, in expectation of new federal funds.
The E-board is a statutory committee with broad powers to allocate general funds, lottery revenue and all other state funds. While the Legislature is in session, the government’s spending power is located in the Joint Committee on Ways and Means. When the Legislature is not in session, that power moves to the E-board. Created by Article III, sec. 3 of the Oregon Constitution, the committee essentially has total authority to allocate emergency funds, alter expenditure limitations for agencies, transfer allocations between agencies and manage federal grant money. The E-board is a joint committee chaired by Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek.
On Thursday, committee members took full advantage of the expansive powers at their disposal to allocate more than $30 million to combat COVID-19 and its effects on Oregon. The allocations, which were previewed in a news release from Courtney and Kotek, included:
$12 million to the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department for safe shelter and rental assistance programs.
$10 million to the Department of Administrative Services for a grant to the Oregon Community Foundation to oversee a culturally specific, community-based grant program to make payments to workers who are ineligible for wage replacement payments from traditional unemployment insurance programs.
$10 million to the Oregon Business Development Department to create an assistance program for small businesses. The $10 million will be allocated initially with $5 million from the legislative Emergency Fund to be later matched with $5 million from existing lottery funds from the Business, Innovation and Trade Division of the executive branch.
$3.35 million to the Department of Human Services to help protect long-term care settings from COVID-19 with expanded testing and training for long-term care workers.
$2 million to the Department of Justice for emergency housing for victims of domestic and sexual violence.
The committee also took the necessary procedural steps to prepare for money from the federal CARES Act. The Legislature sets limits on how much money any given agency can spend during a biennium. The E-board raised a few of these expenditure limitations dramatically.
The Department of Administrative Services received a $300 million expenditure limitation increase, based on the projection of $275 million in CARES money.
The committee also passed a few “housekeeping” items, including allocating additional resources in expectation of the 2020 fire season and to address an unexpected position loss in the Bureau of Labor and Industries.
As for next steps, all eyes are on the May 20, 2020, revenue forecast. It is expected to be grim.