With another month to go before the Board of County Commissioners votes to approve a final budget June 11, the Chair has already addressed a $58 million hole opened by the new coronavirus. Far more budget pressure is expected, she said, due to the County’s unique role.
“As the local public health authority, we’re leading our region through this pandemic. And as the largest safety net provider, we’re responding to an unrivaled demand for services. The budget implications of being both are unprecedented,’’ Chair Kafoury said.
Since March, the County’s revenue from the business income and motor vehicle rental taxes dropped sharply. At the same time, the County has had to spend more to keep the community safe.
The County has increased the number of Public Health nurses and epidemiologists investigating COVID-19 cases to 31 and expects to hire dozens more contact tracers. In the last two months, County employees working in the Emergency Operations Center have distributed more than 4 million pieces of personal protective equipment from state and federal stockpiles and 600,000 donations to health systems and community agencies. Public Health has also published 16 pages of health guidance in 25 languages and answered thousands of calls and emails in a call center.
At the same time, the Emergency Operations Center and Joint Office of Homeless Services quickly opened 450 shelter beds into extension shelters, so everyone in shelter could practice physical distancing. The County also created 120 beds at medical motel shelters. It hired nearly 80 temporary workers to staff the new physical distancing shelters and 18 nurses, physician assistants and physicians for the medical motel shelters.
In total, the Emergency Operations Center has worked more than 150,000 hours to provide safe housing and distribute resources. In April alone, the County provided 63,000 meals to seniors in need, plus tens of thousands of meals to those in shelters.
The new spending is not even reflected in the $58 million hole from the revenue loss in the County’s FY 2021 General Fund. The County has not undertaken any furloughs or layoffs, in part because so much of the work it does every day remains essential: health clinics, elections, adult protective services, domestic violence services, parole and probation, jails, crisis call centers and other vital social programs.
To cover the $58 million shortfall for the General Fund, the Chair ordered an immediate 2 percent cut to every department, and her budget would tap one-time-only reserves and new revenue from the Business Income Tax. She also ordered a wage freeze for management and exempt employees, which saved 3.4million for the General Fund. While that closed the immediate gap for the 2021 budget, the “ground is still shifting.’’
Next Tuesday, May 12, the County will release its next General Fund forecast, which is expected to include additional revenue declines. But, the Chair said, the County is already anticipating not having the funds to cover the “more than $75 million we anticipate it will take to meet our contact tracing threshold for reopening, continue our emergency public health and community response and protective actions we’re taking at congregate settings.”
In late April, the County did receive $28 million from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, $8 million of which the County will spend this year, and the remaining $20 million for FY 2021. The County has also identified $5 million in state and federal funding, and will work with the City of Portland, regional partners and the state to find more.
“But without additional dollars, we are looking at deep cuts across our departments at a time when the community needs us most,’’ Chair Kafoury said.
The Chair’s budget renews the County’s commitment to keeping people housed and protecting the most vulnerable at this time, allocating $33 million for the County’s share of the Joint Office of Homeless Services’ budget.
“More than ever, our spending on rent assistance, street outreach, treatment and shelter is just as much an investment in this community’s health and safety. Our neighbors need stability. Our neighbors need homes,” Chair Kafoury said. “This work has always saved lives. And we can’t let up or do less, especially now. At a time when people are being told to stay home, they must have homes they can stay in.”
The budget also adds housing funds for culturally specific groups and will provide bridge housing for transgender people, and adds a $200,000 Family Unification Program to support Black and Native families with child welfare involvement so they can find stable housing while working to regain custody of their children.
The Chair’s 2021 budget also funds:
County jails at the current level
Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office’s Close Street Supervision program, which provides community supervision for individuals being held pre-trial.
The Diane Wade House, a key part of the County’s efforts to remediate practices that disproportionately jail people of color by providing transitional housing services for justice-involved Black women.
Legal Service Days for community members trying to rebuild their lives by getting more than $2.6 million in fees and fines waived.
Elections with a $450,000 investment for the upcoming 2020 presidential election, including more ballot processing capacity, critical technology upgrades, security for ballot drop sites and staffing for the Voting Center Express site in Gresham.
Restored funding for the County voters’ pamphlet, which provides basic voter information to every household, in the six most commonly spoken languages.
The new Student Health Center site at Reynolds High School to expand comprehensive preventive primary care for school-aged youth into East Portland. One-time-only ramp-up funds will be used to get the center to full operational capacity once schools reopen.
Mental health supports, including a Multi-Disciplinary Team to serve older adults and people with disabilities.
Restored funding for Crisis Assessment & Treatment Center, the Cascadia Urgent Walk-in Clinic, and the Mental Health Treatment and Medication for the Uninsured program.
A Gateway Center position that specifically works with immigrant and refugee survivors of domestic violence to provide culturally appropriate guidance through the legal system.
A $250,000 investment in a local and statewide initiative to link undocumented and mixed documentation families to navigation and legal services.
Chair Kafoury said, “We don’t know how long this pandemic will last, how many people will ultimately be exposed, become ill and need our help”.
But she vowed to be transparent about County finances with employees and the community. “I’ll use the County’s values of equity, safety, trust and belonging to guide our decisions and shift how we work especially with our most impacted communities.”The Board will hold public meetings online to take public testimony on May 20 and May 27. A copy of the executive budget and budget message can be found here. A complete schedule can be viewed here.