State Representative
Nancy Nathanson
April-May 2020
In the past couple of months I've sent a dozen email updates specific to the coronavirus pandemic. This newsletter is one of my regular legislative updates that I send a few times a year, but I will include some COVID-19 response and reopening news to avoid sending you more emails! You can find more COVID-19 information and links to enews on my website in the Home Page box. The Oregon Health Authority COVID-19 website compiles lots of information and data updates and links to Daily Updates and Weekly Reports (with cases by zipcode).

In the last COVID-19 enews I included a brief description of the recent Economic and Revenue Forecast. I have more information about it in this newsletter, below.

The past week's events have left our country, and our city, in pain. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis follows other tragic murders of Black people and underscores the institutional racism and hate that still plagues our society. We are upset, angry, and worried. We must all work to be actively anti-racist, and as a legislator, I am committed to supporting policies that break down barriers, reform institutions and address inequities. My legislative colleagues, the Legislative People of Color (POC) Caucus, issued a joint statement last week on the Downtown Portland protests that you can read here, and another today that you can read here. I will close with these words taken from our Speaker of the House, Rep. Kotek: "His death is yet another ugly tragedy in a series of deadly encounters that should never happen. ... This has been such a heartbreaking year. The toll on our public health, our economy, and our collective psyche has been tested like few times in our nation’s history. Will we learn from this experience and build a better world together? I will continue to hope."

Wash your hands!
Quick Updates and News
Insurance grace periods, and claims payment

Notice from Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services: The Division of Financial Regulation issued emergency orders for property and casualty, long-term care, and life and disability insurance. The orders mean that the most common insurance policies, such as auto, home, term and whole life, and long-term care, have specific minimum grace periods to pay premiums and they protect consumers by mandating how long claims must be paid.

This gives insurance customers a way to keep up with premium payments without falling too far behind, and insurance protection for a specific number of days for customers that are in a grace period.

More info here on their consumer page. A similar order covering health insurance was issued earlier.
Your stimulus money belongs to you, not your living facility

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum asks, "Has your living facility tried to take your stimulus money from you?" In a news release AG Rosenblum "is advising nursing home residents, as well as their family members, that those residents who are Medicaid recipients should be vigilant against having their federal stimulus payments improperly taken from them.
"We have heard some Oregon nursing homes may have taken or are attempting to take stimulus checks from residents who are Medicaid recipients. This needs to stop," said Attorney General Rosenblum. "These stimulus checks are the property of the residents and must be returned. Confiscation of these checks is unlawful and should be reported to my office."
Report this improper confiscation of stimulus checks to the Oregon Attorney General's Office Medicaid Fraud Control Unit at:
Personal services and retail stores

Since many counties began the slow process of reopening on May 15, businesses have submitted questions to OHA seeking additional guidance. OHA is working through these questions and developing sector-specific FAQs that can be found on our COVID-19 website under OHA Guidance and Signage. FAQs will be listed just below the sector-specific guidance.

Two new sets of FAQs have been posted: Personal services and
Farmers, farmworkers, and Oregon's food supply chain

Governor Kate Brown announced a $30 million investment to secure Oregon's food supply chain and protect essential agricultural workers. The Governor's Office worked with state agencies, farmers, and farmworker advocates to develop a funding proposal to deploy rapid support and resources to Oregon's agricultural producers to meet harvest demands and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

"Oregon’s agricultural workers are on the frontlines during this COVID-19 crisis, working to provide food for Oregon families,” said Governor Kate Brown. “This investment will bring essential resources to agricultural producers and farmworkers, providing critical resources to keep workers safe and mitigate COVID-19 outbreaks while protecting the food supply chain."

The funding provides for distributing 1 million face masks and 5,000 gallons of hand sanitizer to the agricultural and farmworker communities, costs such as PPE, agriculture workforce housing (see my last enews), field sanitation including hand-washing stations and portable restrooms, and a quarantine fund for recovering farmworkers. More information is available at the Food Security and Farmworker Safety program website.
DMV: some services resuming
Beginning June 3: 40 of DMV's 60 offices will be open by appointment only, to process certain priority transactions (schedule appointments online beginning Wednesday June 3):
  • Commercial Driver License issuance, renewal, and replacement
  • Farm endorsements
  • Standard/Class C Driver License issuance, renewal, and replacement (note: beginning July 6, replacements will be available online and will no longer be done in-person)
  • ID card issuance, renewal, and replacement (note: beginning July 6, replacements will be available online and will no longer be done in-person)
  • Driver license reinstatements
DMV will NOT conduct driving tests (skills tests) for new drivers. New drivers needing drive/skills tests are encouraged to work with private, third party testing businesses.
Resource guide from Oregon Law Center and Legal Aid
Oregon Law Center (OLC) and Legal Aid Services of Oregon (LASO) have collected some resources for their low-income clients, covering housing, family law, employment, and public benefits. The resources are available at Oregon Law Help. They also provide a statewide hotline for legal advice to low-income people: (800) 520-5292.
2020 census
 Jobs! Now hiring!
The 2020 Census is hiring staff to work in their local communities. These jobs pay $18 to $20 per hour. Apply online.

Don't forget to respond
Eugene’s response rate is 68% right now, compared to 63% for Oregon and a national response rate of 60%. The window to respond to the Census has been extended from July 31 to October 31, so there is still time for people to earn extra income and make a positive difference.

The data collected during the census is used for congressional reapportionment and to determine the distribution of federal dollars to fund programs such as Medicaid, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), Head Start, Section 8 Housing Vouchers and Highway Planning and Construction, just to name a few. Additionally, accurate census data is critical for the crafting of equitable and informed public policy and effective community planning.
State Parks
More State Parks are opening for day use. Check out this new map to see the hours and status of each park. Oregon Health Authority is still asking people to stay local – within 50 miles for urban areas.
Camping remains closed through June 8, but will resume at some parks on a limited basis June 9. The park status map will also include information about camping availability as of that date.
See more on the Oregon State Parks COVID-19 page
Neighborhood walks and rides: the creative spirit
Blue Dot Flowers
NE Neighbors: an entrepreneurial neighbor who sells flowers
Whiteaker neighborhood
Whiteaker's art scene
bike ride near the river
Here at home: around the district
Eugene Public Library
Eugene Public Library is preparing to offer curbside pick-up of items that are on hold. To get your books faster, you can visit your online account and cancel any unfilled requests that you no longer want and suspend any requests that you don't want to receive all at once.
Eugene food scene
Here's a directory of restaurants and food businesses open for delivery and take-out. (developed by Eugene Chamber of Commerce)
Local business resource for reopening
The Eugene and Springfield Area Chambers of Commerce have partnered to provide a county-approved " Back to business" resource guide to help businesses navigate the state and county's new guidelines. The primary goal is to accomplish Phase 1 “in a manner that will protect residents from further spread of COVID-19.” Lots more info for business on their COVID-19 page.
Beltline/Delta Interchange
Beltline Delta interchange
Construction crews have continued working on the Beltline/Delta Highway interchange during the pandemic. The redesign will address a much-needed safety problem at this ODOT-recognized high crash location. As ODOT explains, the outdated interchange design creates merging and weaving issues on the two intersecting highways. So, expect continued delays during nights and weekends until 2021. For those of you reading my newsletters for a while now you'll know I've written - and raised by voice! - about this for years. ODOT website for the Beltline/Delta Interchange project.

ODOT gives this quick summary of the changes:
  • Eastbound drivers exiting Beltline to northbound Delta will pass through a new traffic signal.
  • The exit ramp from Beltline to northbound and southbound Delta will be extended to the Willamette River Bridge. This will allow traffic to exit Beltline sooner.
  • A new bridge will take northbound Delta traffic onto westbound Beltline (via the loop ramp). The new bridge will be constructed next to the existing overpass specifically for this traffic.
  • The loop ramp for westbound traffic is being reconstructed to add a new lane; after completion the loop ramp will have two lanes.
  • A new ramp meter will be installed at the end of the loop ramp, at the merge with westbound Beltline. The ramp meter will create space between cars and trucks entering the highway, allowing traffic on Beltline to flow more smoothly. 
The Revenue Forecast
What we heard from the economists
The quarterly Economic and Revenue Forecast, despite its importance for statewide planning and budgeting, is usually a pretty routine affair. Not this one; there's been no other like it. The state economist started out with saying, ”This is a sea change.” Yes, it’s bad. And it’s a larger loss next biennium because it will be the whole biennium, and it will be a little less bad in the biennium after that. The following paragraphs will include information from the economists’ presentation.

This recession is not really comparable to previous recessions; it's worse in some ways, better in others. The sharpness of the decline is unprecedented. Past severe spikes have often been associated with something like a hurricane or a labor strike; but the recovery from those is pretty quick. Bouncing back from an event like this one is not anything like that. But we’re in better shape now than we were then: In 2002 it took five sessions to rebalance; the state borrowed to fill the hole and it took 10 years to pay it off. When I was first elected in 2007 one of our first big successes was establishing a Rainy Day Fund. Our reserve funds will serve us well! (More about that below.) But the strong economy we’ve enjoyed for the past decade wasn’t experienced equally for communities of color and rural communities; we need to be mindful of that inequity as we plan for recovery.
Explaining the forecast
Health assumptions are a big part of the forecast; our state’s public health and consumer confidence is intricately linked with the economic forecast. If people don’t feel comfortable coming back to shop or work, then recovery takes even longer. You can’t have one without the other. As the state economist put it, “A return to norm in the health outlook is vital for this economic outlook. I think the two are tied together very tightly.” Some additional pain will be felt down the line, in future months, showing up for example in professional business services and manufacturers.

A bounce back

We’ll start to come back quickly now, as pent-up demand gets released, but it will take a while before we’re back to previous levels. Some of the bounce back will be because people have been saving instead of spending, and they’ll be able to start spending some more now. There have been supply chain problems for producers and those will start getting straightened out. In response to committee questions from me and others, economists agreed that it will be useful to invest in infrastructure – including broadband – and in programs to keep individuals and families afloat. Recognizing there will be reduced budgets in all areas, it's very important to spend wisely now in areas like education and supporting individuals and small business.
About recessions
Recessions alter the economy permanently. So what will be permanently different? What we're already observing, for example: finding out that having a remote workforce can work; businesses need less office space and less business travel; people will want to live in less dense conditions and might choose smaller communities.

There will be a permanent structural shift. We're advised to remember that in a normal year about 10% of businesses close. The pandemic will cause a long-lasting shift downward, with losses of jobs and population, but Oregon will remain comparatively attractive as a location. It is in the state’s long-term economic interest to prevent further harm to businesses and Oregonians to prevent permanent closures and homelessness. This is why the sound fiscal management we've shown since the Great Recession is so important.
stock market corrections
Revenue down, Needs up: how do we balance the budget?
Reserve funds

Oregon is a lot better off than many other states: one of six states with over 100 days of operating costs in reserve funds. How to use those reserves, and how much, will be significant questions for the legislature to address when we meet next.

Oregon has two budget reserve funds. They’re called the Rainy Day Fund and the Education Stability Fund. Both were established to protect against the most severe budgetary downturns caused by economic slowdowns and resulting drops in expected tax collections. Legislative Revenue Office includes a description of reserve funds in section B3-B4 starting on page 13 of this Basic Facts report.

The Education Stability Fund (ESF) is composed of 18% of net proceeds from the lottery, capped at 5% of General Fund revenues. The ESF is intended to provide a financial buffer to assist in funding public education in case of an economic downturn. The Legislature is allowed to spend the principal of the fund for public education if there is an economic downturn, as defined by law, and if the expenditure is approved by at least three-fifths of the members of each chamber (House and Senate). The ESF was used several times before 2014 to balance the education budget, but not since then.

The Rainy Day Fund (RDF) receives up to 1% of any biennial ending fund balance in the General Fund. It has a theoretical cap of about 7.5% of General Fund collections in a biennium. The RDF is intended to help cover shortfalls if they exceed 2% of the budget, and only 2/3 of the RDF can be transferred at a time unless the Legislature modifies the limit.

Currently, these reserve funds are projected to grow by the end of the current biennium: the ESF to about $800 million, and the RDF to about $950 million, with some downward pressure due to adverse revenue impacts from the COVID-19-caused recession.
Around the State
Your phone service?

The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) has launched a survey to learn what Oregon residents think of available telecommunications services. Residential telephone and cellular service customers are encouraged to take this survey to provide input about the quality of service received and whether there is access to appropriate telecommunications services for individuals and communities to thrive.

The survey is intended to provide a voice to Oregon residents using telephone and cell services. The results will help inform a report that is due to the Oregon State Legislature as part of our investigation required by House Bill 3065, which passed in the 2019 Legislative session. This bill directed the PUC to establish a public process to investigate the continuing relevance of the “carrier of last resort” or COLR obligation on the state’s telecommunications providers given the recent changes in technology and policy in the industry. The COLR obligation requires telephone companies to provide access to telephone service in their designated service territory without discrimination.
Drought story -- update
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 78% of Oregonians live in a drought. Eugene is currently in a severe drought.

In my last enews I wrote about information obtained from the U.S. Drought Monitor, and the focus was on Southern Oregon and a declaration of drought in Klamath County.

Now a drought emergency has been declared for Coos County due to unusually low streamflow and hot, dry conditions. This is the fourth county to receive approval for this declaration, following Klamath, Jackson and Curry counties. State agencies such as Dept. of Agriculture and Water Resources Dept. are directed to work with these counties to mitigate drought conditions.
photo in opening letter: a Japanese snowbell tree that I raised from seed