March 20, 2020

Multnomah County is working to extend economic relief to low-wage hourly employees, and small businesses and women- and minority-owned businesses across the area. The move comes as local and state officials increasingly seek options to stave off layoffs, evictions and deaths in the face of COVID-19.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced steps to reach businesses hurt by COVID-19

The U.S. Congress on Wednesday passed a $1 trillion relief package that would, among many measures, extend unemployment and sick leave pay to millions of residents harmed by the pandemic. Earlier this week, on Monday, Gov. Kate Brown announced an economic taskforce that’s working a recovery package for Oregon small businesses and employees.

The same day, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said Portland’s economic development agency, Prosper Portland, would form a taskforce to look for ways to support employers and staff in the city  who are struggling with the economic punch from COVID-19. The taskforce has scheduled meetings with businesses across the city, and immediately made available $150,000 in grants for businesses impacted by COVID-19, beginning in the Jade District, a network of Asian-American restaurants and businesses in east Portland.

“There's a lot we can do at the local level too,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said Tuesday at a joint press event with Multnomah County. “Every option will be on the table to support the resilience and recovery of our local economy.”

Commissioner Lori Stegmann, a small-business owner who represents east Multnomah County, said supporting nonprofits and businesses is a great way to make sure those services survive this pandemic. That’s why she donated to support the Jade District and SnowCap Community Charities.

“These are uncertain times, but we will get through this together. I have no doubt that our community will meet the challenges that lie ahead,” she said. “I have already seen so many instances of community reaching out, messages of support, people offering meals to seniors and families experiencing instability.”

Stegmann has owned a Farmers Insurance office in Gresham for 25 years. She has asked her two employees to work from home whenever possible and is asking clients to call first, rather than walk into the office. If the office closes its doors entirely, a sign on the door will direct clients to dial in, and the phone will forward to the agency’s manager. 

“I am concerned, like all small-business owners, about a significant downturn,” she said. “So I am looking at ways to ensure that my employees still receive a paycheck, or will be able to access unemployment, or sick and vacation leave.”

That’s why the County is exploring how to extend relief to businesses throughout Multnomah County, prioritizing minority- and women-owned small and emerging businesses. The County efforts follow an eviction moratorium Chair Deborah Kafoury signed March 17 to protect people who have fallen ill from COVID-19, lost their jobs, hadd their wages cut or have had to miss work to care for children while schools are closed.

Staff will also help small businesses through the application process for Small Business Administration relief. And, at the same time, a liaison unit within the County’s emergency operations center has been establishing relationships with businesses across the County to field concerns and share information.

“We have rightly been intensely focused on responding to the medical crisis that this pandemic has presented,” said Chair Deborah Kafoury. “We also are deeply concerned about the economic crisis that we know is already here because financial health supports emotional health, and stable families grow from stable jobs.”