Council to vote on COVID-19 priorities Wednesday

Multnomah County

Multnomah County will receive $39.1 million of the $114 million that Portland received from the federal government.

PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — The Portland City Council is scheduled to finish spending $114 million in emergency federal COVID-19 response funding on Wednesday, July 22.

“As a result of the social distancing mandates require by the State and around the nation, our region has experienced the most severe economic downturn in the past century. With hundreds of businesses required to temporarily close or scale down, Multnomah County’s unemployment went from a historically low rate of 3.2% in February 2020 to 15.2% in April, resulting over approximately 123,000 individuals without jobs and at risk,” read the ordinance that directs where the funds will go.

As currently written, the ordinance would allocate $39.1 million to Multnomah County. That would include $20 million for public health services and $19.1 million for serving the homeless.

Other large spending categories include: $20.4 million for assisting low-income households with meals, groceries and gift cards; $17 million for rent assistance and mortgage counseling and asssitance to help families keep their housing; $15 million to support small businesses hurt by the pandemic-related shutdown; and 9.1 million for the City’s COVID-19 response.

In addition, $5 million would be targeted for cities in East Multnomah County, $4.4 million would be spent supporting arts and cultural organizations, and $3.5 million would go toward helping low-income households bridge the digital divide, and $550,000 would fund a public health outreach campaign focused on transit and the public right of way.

The money is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) funding approved by Congress. It cannot be used to replace revenue shortfalls caused by the pandemic but must fund responses to it.

The $39.1 million is especially critical to Multnomah County, which is leading the public health response to the pandemic and working to prevent COVID-19 from spreading in the homeless population. Only the State of Oregon and city of Portland qualified for CARES funding.

According to the ordinance, the East Multnomah County assistance program is called PDX-CARES and is intended to help traditionally marginalized communities.

“PDX-CARES household and business relief programs shall be used to assist Portland’s most vulnerable populations and to the maximum extent possible, priority shall be given to Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) families and individuals, BIPOC businesses, homeless and houseless communities and people with disabilities,” the ordinance reads.

During a May 25 work session on the spending priorities, the Office of Management and Finance proposed spending $11.6 million to improve the ability of City employees to work from home during the pandemic. The council decided to spend all the money trying to meet community needs instead.

You can read the ordinance here.

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