A rundown of policy and health budget changes during Oregon’s second special session

Oregon’s day-long second special session began and ended on Monday. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, legislators returned to the capitol to address an over $1 billion hole in the current two-year budget.

Monday’s legislatively-approved budget cuts about $400 million across state agencies and uses about $400 million from the Education Stability Fund to address the budget gap.

 

 

For health and human services, the majority of core programs and services were spared from significant cuts.

“Critical health care and public health services are maintained, including current Oregon Health Plan benefits and eligibility, community mental health and substance use disorder services, Oregon State Hospital bed capacity, and Public Health Modernization services,” reads a session re-cap from House Speaker Tina Kotek.

Similar to what was discussed in a July Committee meeting, the new budget cuts about $180 million in general funds from the budgets that fall under the Joint Ways & Means Subcommittee on Human Services including the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), the Department of Human Services, and other agencies such as the Psychiatric Security Review Board.

The new budget reduces general funds for OHA by making $103 million in cuts across a range of programs. The budget also supports increased funding for a growing Medicaid caseload and takes into account a temporary increase in the Medicaid match rate.

Reductions in the Oregon State Hospital budget will eliminate 21 positions across non-direct care programs. The eliminated positions, reads the budget, are not expected impact mental health treatment and services provided to patients.

Through the budget, the state will also delay implementation of new intensive in-home behavioral health services for children.

Oregon Health and Science University will face a $338,042 cut in general funds. This includes a $238,042 reduction for the university’s Office of Rural Health, and a $100,000 reduction to the one-time investment in the Oregon Child Integrated Dataset.

The budget now heads to Gov. Kate Brown for approval.

“While we may not agree on all the details, I appreciate that lawmakers protected critical state services including schools, health care, and senior services, while also taking action to tighten belts in state government,” said Gov. Kate Brown.

“In the coming days, I will examine closely the details of the bills and the budget the Legislature has passed.”

Lawmakers also passed policy bills related to policing and unemployment benefits during the special session. The inclusion of policy bills was a source of tension leading up the special session.

One bill, HB 4301, limits the use of chokeholds by law enforcement and institutes new rules related to the use of physical or deadly force. The bill requires law enforcement to consider alternatives to use of force and outlines the expectation that they are expected to de-escalate conflicts “if reasonable opportunity to do so exists.”

Legislators also passed SB 1701, a bill that allows workers who make up to $300 a week to still qualify for full unemployment benefits, and SB 1703, which authorizes the Dept. of Revenue to share income-related information with the Oregon Employment Department. According to Senate Democrats, the purpose of the bill is to create a more efficient process to determine if self-employed workers and contractors qualify for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA).

The bills passed with bipartisan support.

Looking forward, Gov. Brown and legislative leaders continue to call on the federal government to pass new COVID-19 relief legislation.

“This session is far from the end of long-term conversations to put Oregon on the path to an equitable economic recovery. The scale of this crisis dictates additional support from the federal government, and I urge Congress to provide that support as soon as possible to prevent the suffering that is happening daily across our state,” said Kotek at the conclusion of the second special session.