Special Session Complete and Omicron Variant News

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Representative Julie Fahey


Last week, the legislature convened for a special session to prevent evictions and provide relief for several urgent needs across the state. There were months of hard work leading up to this session, but that meant that we were able to get in and out of the Capitol and complete our work in one day. I wanted to send out one last newsletter this year to update you all on the legislation passed in the session and to provide some information on the new Omicron COVID-19 variant. 

New Protections for Renters

During the special session, the legislature passed new protections for Oregon tenants who are behind on rent. Senator Kayse Jama and I crafted a proposal to make sure no tenant would be evicted while waiting for help to arrive. Administrative delays were putting thousands of Oregon families at risk of eviction, even though they had applied for rental assistance in a timely manner and funding was available. During discussion of this bill in committee, we heard testimony about the impact of delays in processing applications – including several renters whose application was not processed within their 60- or 90-day safe harbor period of protection, meaning they were at risk for eviction.   

Rep Fahey on the House floor 12/13

I was proud to carry Senate Bill 891 on the House floor, which extended the safe harbor protection to last until a rental assistance application is processed. That means that if you have already applied for rental assistance and given your landlord proof that you applied, you are protected from eviction for nonpayment until your application is processed, with no 60- or 90-day limit. The “safe harbor” protection will be available to protect tenants who have applied for rental assistance and given proof to their landlord that they have applied by the end of June 2022. All safe harbors will expire at the end of September of 2022.

Oregon Law Center New Tenant Protections

The legislature also allocated $215 million in funding to provide rental assistance to tenants and landlords, speed up the processing of applications, and support eviction prevention and diversion programs statewide. OHCS, the state agency distributing rental assistance, has made specific commitments about when they will pay out the remaining federal assistance dollars as well as the new rental assistance dollars going to the state. The delays that tenants and landlords have experienced over the past six months aren’t acceptable, and the legislature, executive branch, and local partners will need to work together to build more accountability and capacity going forward.

During the special session, the legislature also allocated funding for other urgent needs:

  • $100 million to support farmers and irrigators across the state who have been impacted by drought, heat, or fire. This will include relief to farmers and tribes impacted by drought in the Klamath Basin and a forgivable loan program for Oregon farmers and ranchers who lost income in 2021 due to a natural disaster. With climate change continuing to impact Oregon agriculture, these programs will stabilize Oregon farmers and ranchers and support their growth in the future.
  • $25 million to begin addressing illegal cannabis operations in Southern Oregon. This funding expands the existing grant programs to support local law enforcement, water use enforcement, and local community-based organizations who support farmworkers. These illegal operations are causing serious concern about crime, environmental damage, and unsafe working conditions in these areas.
  • $18 million to build our capacity to welcome refugees arriving from Afghanistan after the American withdrawal. This funding will go to six resettlement agencies across the state, including Catholic Community Services in Lane County. It will help welcome these families to Oregon and help provide stable housing, jobs, language classes, health care, and other services.
  • $14 million to Oregon’s 14 Community Development Block Grant Senate “entitlement communities” (Albany, Ashland, Beaverton, Bend, Corvallis, Eugene, Grants Pass, Gresham, Hillsboro, Medford, Portland, Redmond, Salem, and Springfield). Each city will receive $1 million to address housing insecurity, lack of affordable housing, or homelessness.
  • $5 million for the Port of Portland to establish the Oregon Mass Timber Modular Housing Prototype project, which will develop a prototype of modular housing units made from mass timber and will assess the economic and environmental impacts of creating these housing units to address the housing crisis in Oregon.

Protecting Against Omicron

This time last year, the first COVID vaccines in Oregon were just being administered to health care workers. Since then, over three million Oregonians have received at least one dose of the vaccine. I think it’s worth reflecting back on how far we have come since 2020 – we have been through a very tough year in 2021, but our collective actions have averted more serious harm to our state.

Now, a new, worrisome development in the pandemic has emerged in the last few weeks. Last Friday, OHSU released an updated COVID forecast, taking into account the projected impact of the new Omicron variant. This analysis is based on the experience in countries like Denmark where Omicron has already been spreading. The evidence from those countries shows that this variant is far more transmissible than previous versions of the disease. OHSU scientists project that, by the end of January, Oregon will see even higher numbers of people hospitalized than we saw in September with Delta, when our hospitals were stretched to their breaking point and the care of COVID and non-COVID patients was impacted. This is especially true if individual Oregonians don’t take protective measures in response. This Oregonian article has a good overview of what that modeling tells us.

This is obviously not the news any of us wanted to hear after nearly two years of the pandemic – we are all tired of dealing with uncertainty, fear, and changing conditions. But there are things we can do to mitigate the risk of Omicron. Governor Brown held a press conference on Friday to outline the steps the state will be taking to get ahead of this wave of hospitalizations; helping more people get boosters, expanding testing, and expanding access to early treatment.

As individuals, the most important tools in our arsenal are boosters, testing, and masks.

Boosters/Vaccinations. If you've been putting off getting your booster or having your kids vaccinated, hoping that things will keep improving – now is the time to get that done. Everyone age 16 and older is eligible for a booster if it’s been at least 6 months since your second Pfizer or Moderna shot or 2 months since your J&J shot. If you received J&J as your first shot, it's particularly important that you get boosted and that it be with an mRNA vaccine like Moderna (the CDC has recently updated its recommendations to reflect a preference for people to receive an mRNA vaccine instead of the J&J vaccine).

Lane County regularly hosts clinics around the county (visit Lanecounty.org/VaxClinics for locations and to make an appointment). They are also hosting a walk-in vaccine clinic Tuesdays through Sundays from noon to 7 p.m. at the Peacehealth Riverbend Annex in Springfield – the walk-in clinic can do first and second doses for kids and adults as well as boosters.

Lane County drop-in vax clinic

With the news about Omicron coming during the holiday season, it is very important for people who have any symptoms at all to stay home and arrange for testing – even if you are fully vaccinated. If you plan to gather with family and friends for the holidays, it’s also a good idea to take the added precaution of getting the people in your group tested beforehand, especially if anyone in your group will be unvaccinated.

UO runs a free testing program for asymptomatic individuals, Lane County holds regular free testing clinics, and many pharmacies offer free testing appointments as well. The BinaxNOW at-home rapid tests are now widely available at many pharmacies, for about $24 for two tests (Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club are selling them for 2/$14 – you don’t have to be a member to buy from Sam’s Club and they will ship to your home). If you are experiencing symptoms or have had a known COVID exposure, an urgent care clinic or your health care provider can also offer testing. In addition, President Biden announced today that in the new year, the federal government will be launching a website where Americans will be able to request that free, at-home rapid tests be sent to their home. I was very glad to see this announcement, since increasing testing is an important way to identify cases early, helping to reduce the spread and enable early access to some of the promising antiviral treatments coming on the market.

Masks. If you are spending time indoors around people not in your household, it’s safest to wear a well-fitted mask. Cloth masks are acceptable, but with Omicron being more transmissible, N95s and KN95s are a better choice, and they’re much more widely available now (and for more reasonable prices) than they were last year.

Every family will have to decide what level of risk they’re willing to accept in the face of the new information about Omicron, including whether wearing masks is a precaution they want to take. If there are elderly or immune-compromised individuals present, or if there are attendees who are unvaccinated, then not wearing masks represents a higher level of risk. If the gathering is relatively small and everyone is fully vaccinated/boosted and has been tested recently, not wearing a mask represents a lower level of risk. When making my own decisions about private gatherings with family and friends, I tend to think of each precaution (vaccinations, boosters, masks, testing before the gathering, limited number of people, time outdoors vs. indoors) as providing one extra layer of protection – you may not need to have every one of those layers present in order to be protected from COVID, but the more layers you have, the less risky the situation becomes.

With the special session over, I am looking forward to spending some time relaxing and celebrating with family over the next couple of weeks. Wishing everyone a happy, restful holiday season!


Fahey signature

Julie Fahey
State Representative

Capitol Phone: 503-986-1414
Capitol Address: 900 Court St. NE, H-286, Salem, Oregon 97301
Email: Rep.JulieFahey@oregonlegislature.gov
Website: http://www.oregonlegislature.gov/fahey