News Release: Third Federal COVID Relief Fund Overview; Senator Jeff Merkley

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January 06, 2021
I wanted to reach out and provide some updates as we open 2021 as the last couple of weeks have been…busy… in Washington D.C.  For starters, Senator Jeff Merkley was sworn in yesterday for his third term and we are looking forward to continuing to serve Oregonians.  If interested, Senator Merkley’s press release talks about some of his overarching priorities for the 117th Congress, which, in addition to COVID response and recovery, will focus on climate, families (good-paying jobs, quality health care, affordable housing, and education), and democratic reform (check out the We the People Act). 
In December, Congress passed a third COVID relief bill along with an omnibus spending bill and the Water Resources Development Act.  The COVID relief bill was not up to Senator Merkley’s standards, but in the end, was better than nothing.  Senator Merkley views this bill as yet another stopgap measure and notes that much more is needed to get American families and businesses back on our feet. Additionally, Senator Merkley and others are still fighting to get direct funding to States and Counties; he continues to believe that this is a critical part of recovery.  You may have also seen some of the… interesting… back and forth regarding the $2,000 stimulus payments. As of right now, that effort has been blocked by Senator Mitch McConnell, but I expect to see the fight continue. Senator Merkley does support a $2,000 stimulus payment for individuals.
Some of the highlights from the COVID relief bill:
  • Direct Economic Relief: $286 billion
    • $120 billion for Unemployment Insurance which will provide an additional $300 per week for all workers and extends the PUA program through March 14th, 2021.
    • $166 billion for Economic Impact payments which will provide direct stimulus payments to qualifying individuals.  Breaks down as follows:
      • $600 per individual making up to $75,000 per year or $1200 per couples making up to $150,000 per year as well as a $600 payment for each child dependent.  Unfortunately, the final law defined child dependents as under 17 again so there are no changes here.
      • We are happy to say that mixed status immigrant households are now eligible for stimulus payments thanks to a bipartisan effort and this is retroactive now to the original CARES act.
  • Small Business: $325 billion
    • $284 billion for first and second forgivable PPP loans including a $12 billion set aside for very small businesses and lending through community based lenders like CDFIs and Minority Depository Institutions.
      • Expanded PPP eligibility for 501c6 nonprofits including destination marketing organizations, local newspapers, etc.
    • $20 billion for new EIDL grants for businesses in low-income communities
    • $15 billion in dedicated funding for live venues, independent movie theaters, and cultural institutions.
  • Vaccines, testing, tracing, community health, and health care provider support: $69 billion
    • $20 billion to BARDA for procurement of vaccines and therapeutics
    • $9 billion to CDC and states for vaccine distribution
    • $3 billion for strategic national stockpile
      • $300 million specifically directed to high risk and underserved areas for distribution
    • $22 billion to states directly for testing, tracing, and COVID mitigation programs.
    • $4.5 billion in mental health funding
    • $1 billion to Indian Health Services
  • Education: $82 billion
    • $54.3 billion to Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (public K-12)
    • $22.7 billion to Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund
    • $4.05 billion to Governors Emergency Education Relief Fund
    • $409 million relief to the Bureau of Indian Education
  • Rental Assistance: $25 billion
    • Established the first ever emergency federal rental assistance program to be distributed by state and local governments, targeted to families impacted by COVID that are struggling to pay rent and/or utilities.
      • $800 million reserved for Native American housing entities.
The FY 2021 omnibus spending bill had a lot of great stuff that Senator Merkley fought for.  For a more thorough list of provisions from the FY 21 appropriations bill, please check out Senator Merkley’s press release here.  Here are some highlights:
  • Wine Grape Smoke Exposure Research: This year’s unprecedented wildfire season blanketed much of the state of Oregon with dense, hazardous smoke, which has significantly impacted Oregon’s wine grape harvest. To better understand the challenges facing Oregon’s wine growers, the bill includes $3.5 million for research into smoke-impacted grapes at Oregon State University (OSU) and other West Coast universities, building on $2 million secured the prior appropriations cycle.
  • Rural Housing: The bill includes $1.41 billion for rental assistance and $40 million for Rural Housing Service Vouchers, which will help address the urgent housing crisis facing Oregon’s rural communities.
  • Rural Development: The bill protects funding for a number of USDA’s Rural Development programs, including rural housing and business development programs that President Trump proposed eliminating. These programs make billions of dollars of investments in rural America every year.
  • National Scenic Area: The bill includes $2 million to help Oregon’s rural communities promote economic development through the Oregon and Washington Investment Boards, rounding out a $10 million commitment that was authorized when the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area was created.
  • Soil Health: The bill includes $1.5 million for the establishment of a Soil Carbon Research Center at OSU focused on research into current and future dryland production practices to increase profitability and yield, conserve soil, enhance soil water storage, and promote sequestration of carbon for soil health.
  • Water Conservation and Habitat Restoration: The bill includes a $30 million for the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations in Oregon. Funding is included for irrigation districts that need to improve water efficiency and conservation or otherwise improve fish and wildlife habitat. This program is providing critical funding for the collaborative processes underway across the state working to conserve water and keep Oregon’s family farms in business while improving the habitats of endangered species. Construction has begun on several key projects to address water resource interests in Central Oregon, including in Tumalo Irrigation District and Central Oregon Irrigation District, and funding announced today will allow further expansion across the state, such as the East Fork Irrigation District project that has broken ground in Hood River.
  • Pacific Shellfish: The bill includes $3.5 million of federal funding for cutting-edge research to improve the productivity, sustainability, and health of the Pacific shellfish agricultural system. This research is critical to efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate chaos on the health and economies of Oregon’s coastal communities.
  • Western Rangeland Livestock: The bill includes $3 million for the establishment of a Western Rangeland Precision Livestock center to develop precision-based nutrition strategies for rangeland-based livestock, as well as technology-based rangeland and livestock management strategies to optimize the health and productivity of Western rangeland-based livestock and the rangeland ecosystem. This funding will be split among land grant universities in Oregon, Montana, and Wisconsin.
  • Agricultural Research: The Agricultural Research Service received an increase of $77 million in funding for cutting-edge research to improve the productivity, sustainability, and health of the nation’s agricultural systems. In addition, Merkley was able to secure funding for key Oregon agriculture research programs, including funding for research on the Sudden Oak Death pathogen plaguing the south coast. Other research funding victories include research for alfalfa, barley, tree fruits, pear, wheat, hops, hemp, apple, shellfish, small fruits, seaweed, floriculture, nurseries, and rangeland ecology.
  • Mass Timber Products: The advanced wood products program at USDA received $3.5 million for work on mass timber products that would enhance Oregon State University’s cutting-edge research.
  • Summer EBT:  The bill continues funding the Summer EBT program at $42 million. This program has provided much-needed nutrition for Oregon families during the summer months when schools are not in session
  • Food Corps: The bill provides an increase of $1 million for Food and Agriculture Service Learning.  This program helps improve education resources for healthy eating especially among children.
  • Hemp: The bill provides $16.5 million to implement provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill allowing for the cultivation of commercial hemp, which can be used to make everything from cloth and rope to oil and soap. Hemp has already quickly become one of Oregon’s leading cash crops, and many feel has the potential to bring in more than $1 billion in sales to Oregon in the coming years, but only with a fair and reasonable regulatory framework.
Congress also passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) which has some great stuff in it for Oregon. Some highlights:
  • Authorizations for studies and projects that upgrade infrastructure like jetties, levees, and breakwaters in Oregon’s communities, such as West Linn and Coos Bay-North Bend, as well as critical funding for ports, such as the Port of Astoria, Port of Bandon, and Port Orford.
  • The bill unlocks the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) by providing the authority to appropriate $2 billion in additional funds annually for harbor maintenance needs from its existing balance. Combined with a provision from the CARES Act—which provided economic relief in response to the global pandemic—the bill provides for up to $4 billion in annual expenditures for port maintenance.
    • The bill includes language that allows, beginning in October 2022, up to $5 million of HMTF funding for Emerging Harbors—which includes most of Oregon’s—to be available for up to 10 maintenance dredging projects in marinas or berthing areas in harbors located adjacent to, or accessible by, a federal navigation project. This will bolster small ports’ access to funding for maintenance projects.
  • Authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to carry out efforts to restore salmon and steelhead habitat. The bill also authorizes a number of studies that will support Oregon’s small ports and fish hatcheries.
  • Provides authorization for the Corps to address and resolve silting and shoaling that impacts small ports, as well as flood control projects, algal bloom control measures, and construction of tribal housing along the Columbia River.
  • New provisions also require the Army Corps to include environmental justice considerations and disadvantaged communities’ needs in its policies, as well as expanding consultation requirements with indigenous groups when the Corps is working close to tribal lands.
Please let me know if you have questions regarding any of this information. I know it is a ridiculously long email.  Looking forward to a new year.
Kind regards,
Stacey jochimsen
Field Representative, Capital to Coast
Office of U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley
Cell: 503-816-4509, Fax: 503-362-8592
Stacey Jochimsen, Field Rep, Capital to Coast, (503) 816-4509