You are constantly in my thoughts as I work to navigate the COVID-19 emergency on multiple fronts. Friday afternoon, my staff went home, not knowing when we will return to City Hall—we are now all set up to work from home. We are working to implement emergency policies through my bureaus and utilizing the resources we have to assist during this crisis. I've been in close contact with my colleagues and community advocates. Today I participated in a teleconference with local business leaders and Congressman Blumenauer and connected with several small business, arts and culture, and housing advocates.
The level of engagement and willingness to work together was heartening, and I look forward to helping to advance many of the solutions put on the table today.
I'm also feeling this on a very personal level; my son is presumed to be high-risk due to his compromised respiratory health. However, because this is uncharted territory, it's been challenging to get clear direction from medical professionals. So we are left to make potentially life or death decisions for him on our own. We are choosing to keep him at home 24/7 and limit visitors to care providers. I know many of you are dealing with similar challenges, and my heart goes out to you.
We need to come together as a community and help our friends, family, and neighbors, but we can't carry this burden alone. That's why I'm actively seeking swift action at the local, state, and federal levels. Unlike previous bailouts, we need to ensure that funds go to those who need them the most. Too big to fail—meet too many to fail. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and employ the majority of our workers. My priorities are flattening the curve, stabilizing small businesses, preserving our music and arts venues, protecting workers, keeping people in their housing, better serving people experiencing homelessness, and minimizing risk to vulnerable populations.
Here is a current list of solutions which is bound to evolve as we learn more:
- Free COVID-19 testing for everyone, regardless of income, and free treatment for the uninsured and underinsured (State/Federal)
- Emergency paid family and medical leave programs, and increased unemployment compensation for all impacted workers (Federal)
- Expanded food assistance programs and increased funding for local food banks (Federal)
- A moratorium on evictions, suspension of mortgage payments and foreclosures, and no-shut off for utilities (local utilities have suspended disconnections during the emergency) for anyone who is financially impacted by COVID-19, as well as a residential and commercial rent freeze (Local/State/Federal)
- Halt student debt collections (Federal)
- Emergency assistance to impacted small businesses, including reimbursement for paid sick leave, and direct support through no-interest loans and grants to avert closure and bankruptcy (Local/State/Federal)
- Require large employers to provide their employees with adequate paid sick leave so that we can focus limited resources on those who most need it (Local/State/Federal)
- Responsibly decrease the jail population by releasing people being held on bail, postponing sentencing, and considering early release for misdemeanors and non-violent offenses (State/Federal)
- Funding to create and staff additional 24/7 shelters and alternative shelter sites so that all individuals experiencing homelessness have safe, uncrowded shelter and connection to supports and services (Local/State/Federal)
- Utilize vacant units and hotel/motel rooms to provide emergency shelter (Local/State/Federal)
This crisis is shining a light on how unstable and unsustainable our economic reality is. 50% of Americans live at or near the poverty line. Only 30% of low-wage workers have paid sick leave. And over 25 million Americans remain uninsured, despite the Affordable Care Act. We are living in an era of unprecedented and growing income inequality. Yet, we allow the largest corporations to pay their workers subsistence wages while externalizing their costs onto the public. And now, with the threat of a viral pandemic at our doorstep, large events canceled, schools closed, and many people practicing social isolation, tens of thousands of Portlanders are one paycheck away from not being able to make their rent or mortgage payments. Thousands of businesses are at risk of not making their payroll or going out of business altogether.
Our systemic failures are on full display. In order to successfully flatten the curve of COVID-19 and avert both a public health and an economic catastrophe, workers need to be able to stay home without fear of losing their income or their housing, and businesses need to know that aid is coming to help them weather the storm. I welcome your input and suggestions as we move forward. I encourage you to organize with others around your shared issues and priorities. I've included some resources below to help you get up to date information, and access supports you or your employees may qualify for below.
Stay Safe and Take Care,
For up to date information on the local, state, national, and global response to COVID-19 visit Multnomah County's COVID-19 website.
For COVID-19 business layoffs, closures, and unemployment insurance benefits, visit Oregon State's Employment Department website.
For a place for small businesses to gather to share resources, advice, and help of all kinds visit Business for a Better Portland's website.
And for resources to support small businesses, check out the Spring 2020 Small Business Campaign.