Dear friends and neighbors,

Three months ago, when we thought we were putting the final pieces of the FY 2021 budget together, I never imagined that we would be here.

Since that time, our country and our community have been jarred by a pandemic and the growing chorus of calls for justice. Many people are outraged — and rightfully so — at the ways oppression and white supremacy continue to strip opportunity, stability and even life from Black, Indigenous and other people of color. People have lost their jobs and families fear losing their homes. And without a vaccine or cure for COVID-19, most people are worried that they or someone in their family might get sick.

And yet this is a moment that I believe calls me, my colleagues and Multnomah County to a higher level of leadership, of engagement, of justice and accountability. Now is an opportunity to lean fully into the work that needs to be done.

On Tuesday morning, the Board of Commissioners adopted a $2.06 billion budget that maintains Multnomah County’s core safety net services, tackles urgent needs to combat COVID-19, and advances equity and accelerates reforms to the criminal system. 

This budget is our strongest policy document, translating our priorities and values into a roadmap for being the kind of local government we pledge to be. And though this year’s budget process was filled with unprecedented challenges, I believe that this budget is capable of meeting the needs of our community members while also tending to the financial health of this organization. You can read a full rundown of the budget here.

The adoption of the FY 2021 is an important step, but there is so much more we need to do, especially with the criminal justice system. I know that some people will see this budget as not going far enough in our commitment to transforming that system.

I promise you: the budget is not the end of this work, nor is this critical work constrained solely to the budget document. 

Multnomah County has been actively working to create a new model that dismantles racial and ethnic disparities. This new budget continues that work, closing an entire jail dorm, reducing staff in the Sheriff’s Office and reducing the misdemeanor and pretrial units in the District Attorney’s Office. Within the Department of Community Justice, we’re permanently suspending parole and probation fees, which eliminates a financial hardship that punishes people for simply being placed on supervision.

But cutting is only part of the work. We're also building up a system that invests meaningfully in Black and other communities of color. We’re reallocating funds to programs and services that are needed long before someone has an encounter with law enforcement, offering resources and pathways for stability and opportunity. And for those who have already been involved with the criminal justice system, we're strengthening the services that break down barriers to successful community reentry. 

This budget further invests in:

  • The Flip the Script reentry program that offers employment, housing, peer support and opportunities for advocacy for African American men.
  • The Diane Wade House, a first-of-its-kind Afrocentric transitional housing program for adult women involved in the criminal justice system that provides culturally specific mental health stabilization and support services.
  • Culturally specific behavioral health housing that promotes stabilization and expands services for Black community members coming out of jail and prison.
  • Bringing the SUN Schools program to KairosPDX, a North Portland educational nonprofit.
  • Legal Services Day, which helps low-income people resolve legal fees and fines, expunge records, and resolve outstanding warrants.
  • Community-centered partnerships that support families of youth on probation.
  • The County’s Healthy Birth Initiative, which increases pre- and post-natal access to healthcare and provides ongoing support to pregnant Black women and their families.

These actions are significant, but initial, steps toward true change. We're committed to achieving a shared vision of public safety and criminal justice that disinvests even more from downstream interventions and reinvests in resources that promote deflection, diversion, supported reentry and healing. The County will continue to listen humbly to the wisdom within impacted communities, and we look forward to genuine collaboration between our Health Department, the Department of Community Justice and community members.

We understand what’s at stake, and we are committed to continuing the work ahead of us with urgency.

Sincerely,

Deborah Kafoury
Multnomah County Chair

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