Oregon House District 60 Newsletter-Issue 20

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Rep. Mark Owens

It has been some time since I have written, as state rules do not allow legislators to send constituent communications from their offices 60 days prior to an election. Much has happened during this time with COVID-19, wildfires, elections,  and more. In addition, the 2021 Legislative Session is fast approaching. I am working on legislation for 2021 that will address a wide array of problems that have been brought to my attention by constituents.  I will share more on this legislation as it is introduced in the coming months.

Two Week Statewide “Freeze”

Beginning November 18 and running through December 2, Governor Brown has issued an Executive Order putting Oregon in a statewide Two-Week “freeze” with the hope of reducing risk in communities more vulnerable to serious illness and death, and helping conserve hospital capacity.  This is what the “freeze” entails:

  • Limiting social get-togethers (indoors and outdoors) to no more than six people, total, from no more than two households.
  • Limiting faith-based organizations to a maximum of 25 people indoors or 50 people outdoors.
  • Limiting eating and drinking establishments to take-out and delivery only.
  • Closing gyms and fitness organizations.
  • Closing indoor recreational facilities, museums, indoor entertainment activities, and indoor pools and sports courts.
  • Closing zoos, gardens, aquariums, outdoor entertainment activities, and outdoor pools.
  • Limiting grocery stores and pharmacies to a maximum of 75% capacity and encouraging curbside pickup.
  • Limiting retail stores and retail malls (indoor and outdoor) to a maximum of 75% capacity and encouraging curbside pickup.
  • Closing venues (that host or facilitate indoor or outdoor events).
  • Requiring all businesses to mandate work-from-home to the greatest extent possible and closing offices to the public.
  • Prohibiting indoor visiting in long-term care facilities (outdoor visitation permitted for supporting quality of life).

The Two-Week Freeze does not apply to or change current health and safety protocols for personal services (such as barber shops, hair salons, and non-medical massage therapy), congregate homeless sheltering, outdoor recreation and sports, youth programs, childcare, K-12 schools, K-12 sports currently allowed, current Division 1 and professional athletics exemptions, and higher education—all of which can continue operating under previous guidance issued by the Oregon Health Authority.

The Governor’s Executive Order can be found here.  Guidance for the freeze can be found on the OHA website here (go to guidance section, click and scroll down).

Rep. Owens Efforts on COVID and Closures

Many people have asked what I personally have done or what plan I have put forth to try to get COVID-19 under control while not crippling our economy. I have sent many suggestions to Governor Brown and had various meetings with member of her staff regarding the following topics and much more:

  • Reevaluating school reopening metrics in rural areas with fewer cases (increasing cohort sizes, counting in-person hours towards required instructional hours, etc)
  • Allowing rural schools in smaller counties with limited cases to run a pilot program for sports (specifically basketball) to study whether allowing high school sports can be done safely
  • Working with county officials and county health administrators on reopening metrics
  • Allowing local control so that reopening decisions can be made at the local level with those that live in the community.
  • Sending 5-10 K95 masks to each address in Oregon
  • Exempting businesses shut down by the pandemic from the Corporate Activities Tax
  • Returning OLCC fees to bars and restaurants who have not been able to operate
  • Temporarily closing marijuana shops in border towns to deter cross-border virus spread
  • Temporarily closing the Oregon Bottle Recycling centers in border towns to those without an Oregon address to deter cross-border virus spread
  • Allowing restaurants and bars with a valid OLCC liquor license to sell cocktails-to-go
  • Setting attainable goals to allow for reopening—the goal posts keep moving
  • Using hospital capacity as the main metric for reopening, as it is the most reliable and important measure of spread
  • Reopening DMV offices across the state to provide necessary services. Expecting citizens to drive hundreds of miles for a drive test is ridiculous.

This week, I joined with numerous other state legislators, county commissioners and judges, and other to send a joint letter to Governor Brown detailing changes that are needed in the reopening metrics which currently impact rural Oregon businesses and communities disproportionately.  Please review this letter as it will explain in detail my views on the current COVID restrictions and actions. You can view the letter here.

Travel Advisory

Last week, Oregon, California, and Washington states issued a joint travel advisory, urging visitors entering their states or returning home from travel outside these states to self-quarantine to slow the spread of the virus. The travel advisories urge against non-essential out-of-state travel (defined as travel for work and study, critical infrastructure support, economic services and supply chains, health, immediate medical care, and safety and security), ask people to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving from another state or country, and encourage residents to stay local. The states’ travel advisories also recommend individuals limit their interactions to their immediate household.

Rural Broadband

The USDA has announced an investment of $43.2 million in grants and loans for high-speed broadband projects in rural Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada. This investment is part of the $550 million Congress allocated to the second round of the ReConnect Program. Oregon-Idaho Utilities Inc. will use a $12.8 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 612 people, 75 farms, and 3 businesses to high-speed internet in Malheur County, Oregon; Owyhee County, Idaho; and Humboldt and Elko counties in Nevada.

Lost Wages Assistance (LWA)

If you have not yet “self-certified” yet, you need to!  The LWA funds were distributed via FEMA, which requires those receiving LWA benefits to certify their eligibility. As long as you received unemployment benefits for a COVID-related reason anytime between July 26 and Sept. 5, 2020, you’re eligible for LWA. You only have to certify once.  If you do not certify, you will likely have to pay back the LWA benefits to the Oregon Employment Department. Click here for instructions on how to certifying using the Online Claim System.  If you have already self-certified, you don’t need to do anything more.

Need to reach Oregon Employment Department?

The best way to get in touch with a claims specialist is to submit a message through the Contact Us Form.  Messages are generally responded to within a few weeks. That means you don’t need to call and wait on hold to get information or have your issues fixed.

Open Enrollment for Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace

The Oregon Health Insurance Marketplace helps people get coverage when they do not have job-based health insurance and do not qualify for the Oregon Health Plan. Many Oregonians will need to evaluate their health plan options for the first time this year after being laid off due to the pandemic. The open enrollment period is Nov. 1 to Dec. 15.

It is estimated that about 132,000 Oregonians are uninsured. Many of these people are unaware of the options and savings available to them. OregonHealthCare.gov is the state’s website that helps people understand what programs and financial help they may be eligible for. More than 70 percent of Oregonians enrolled through the Marketplace last year qualified for a subsidy. 

There is also a wide network of local, in-person assistance available from community partner organizations and insurance agents to help Oregonians on a local level with applying for and enrolling in health coverage.  For more information, visit OregonHealthCare.gov or call 855-268-3767.

Small Business Assistance

Governor Brown announced on Tuesday that the state will commit $55 million in financial assistance from Oregon’s share of the Coronavirus Relief Funds to support Oregon businesses who have been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions. These funds will be allocated to counties to distribute to businesses who have been financially impacted, with a priority for the hospitality industry, businesses impacted by the freeze, small businesses, and women, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, and Tribal-owned businesses. Each county will receive a base allocation of $500,000 plus a per capita allocation of the remainder of the funds. The counties will be responsible for deciding how businesses apply to receive funds and communicating the application process to businesses. The Governor’s Office anticipates that funds will be distributed to counties within the next several weeks. Businesses who are interested in applying should contact their county for more information.

Oregon’s Small Business Development Center has compiled a Disaster Recovery Guide to assist businesses that have been wiped out or shut down due to the wildfires. The guide can be found here.

Contact us My office stands ready to help you with any issues you are having or questions you may have.  While we are currently working remotely, we can be reached via my email address at: rep.markowens@oregonlegislature.gov

I appreciate the opportunity to work with and for you, and to represent your interests in Salem. 

Stay safe. Please wear your masks in indoor public places, wash your hands and practice social distancing, as this is currently the best recommendation for slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Representative Mark Owens

House District 60