Multnomah County is poised to receive $157.5 million in federal aid through the American Rescue Plan Act. Much of that federal assistance will go towards serving the most vulnerable residents of the County, who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.
U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer personally briefed the Board of County Commissioners on key provisions of the $1.9 trillion Act on Tuesday, April 6, reflecting on the local impact of the stimulus and the work that lies ahead.
President Joseph Biden signed the bill into law March 11, 2021 — one year after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. The American Rescue Plan is the third bill in a series of federal stimulus aimed at helping the United States recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic.
The package contained $350 billion to help states, tribal and local governments manage budget shortfalls. Other highlights include $1,400 in direct payments to individuals, expanded low-income tax credits, emergency paid leave for more than 100 million Americans, a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits, and billions in funding for housing assistance, education, transportation, and health services.
“I am particularly proud of the representation that this particular County Commission has provided during some of the most challenging of times,” Congressman Blumenauer said. “The County is often the government of last resort. It’s the most important government that most people don’t know very much about.”
Congressman Blumenauer also applauded Multnomah County for maximizing the resources available and directing them to the communities who needed them the most. Throughout the pandemic, the County has bridged the gap by investing its limited resources in vulnerable communities and small businesses.
Restaurants are among the businesses hit hardest by the pandemic and one of the most important industries in Oregon. In December 2020, Multnomah County began sending $5.3 million in relief directly to qualifying restaurants. More small businesses will benefit from a provision in the American Rescue Act aimed at supporting struggling restaurants.
“I noted with great interest that you invested in local restaurants, and it warms my heart,” Congressman Blumenauer said. “One of the things I’m most proud of in the Rescue Act is that there’s $28.6 billion that is dedicated for restaurant recovery. We wrote the bill so that there is a set aside for small restaurants that made less than half a million dollars in 2019.”
There will still likely not be enough money to meet the demand for help nationwide,so Congressman Blumenauer urged small businesses to calculate their loss of revenue between 2020 and 2019. Those that have that information available will be able to apply for grants immediately —especially those businesses owned by women, veterans, and Black, Indigenous and other people of color.
“I’m excited to hear more about restaurants getting additional resources because they need it,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. “I have to give the Portland Business Alliance a plug because they partnered with Multnomah County to get those restaurant grants out the door.”
While the American Rescue Act will inject much-needed stimulus into the economy, Congressman Blumenauer said more must be done. The current Congress is posed to invest in America’s aging infrastructure.
Under a proposal by the Biden Administration, $621 billion would go towards modernizing roads and bridges; enhancing safety; deploying electric vehicles; and launching other projects that have regional or national significance. The plan also includes $100 billion in public school modernization and $25 billion for child care facilities.
Another provision of the bill would invest millions of dollars in programs that would reconnect neighborhoods cut off by historic investments and ensure new projects prioritize racial, environmental and economic justice. Portland’s historic Albina neighborhood could fall in to that category, he said.
“It is truly breathtaking in terms of billions of dollars for things that are long overdue,” Congressman Blumenauer said. “There’s no guarantee that this will materialize, but we’re going to fight to do so and look forward to working with you to advance proposals could be part of this larger strategy.”
The Earthquake Ready Burnside Bridge project is currently he County’s top infrastructure project. As Congress looks to modernize infrastructure, Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson asked Congressman Blumenauer what projects he aims to prioritize for the region.
Under the current terms of the bill, Congressman Blumenauer said there may be up to $20 million he would be able to direct towards his entire Congressional district. If passed, he would look at a series of targeted, smaller investments.
“I will be looking at a series of smaller projects that could make a difference in different parts of the region and where a smaller amount of $3 million to $7 million might be able to jump start something or get something across the finish line,” Congressman Blumenauer said.
Looking beyond the proposed infrastructure plan, Chair Deborah Kafoury urged Congressman Blumenauer to look for ways to invest federal dollars in the County’s downtown Behavioral Health Resource Center. And with the statewide eviction moratorium expected to eventually expire, the County will be looking for help from the federal government to help protect people facing homelessness.
“The threat of homelessness is a huge issue here in Portland, in Multnomah County,” Chair Kafoury said. When the state eviction moratorium ends, “there are even going to be more people facing homelessness. So any help that the federal folks can give us would be great.”
Congressman Blumenauer pledged to continue working with the County to keep people in their homes. “I’m happy to work with you and hopefully with these various categories and programs we can find some resources to help you realize that vision,” he said. “I’m convinced it will more than pay for itself if we can put it in place.”