April 20, 2009

Talking to high school students from Central Linn High School before Session.

Greetings,

As we do work here in the Legislature your feedback is very important and I appreciate the time many of you have given to help me make informed decisions.  Earlier this session we developed a survey to get specific feedback on key issues the Legislature would be facing this session.  I have been tracking the results of that survey over the last couple of months and thought this would be a good time to report back now that we are half way through session.  Your priorities are health care, K-12, and higher education in this survey.  Reexamining Oregon's personal and corporate tax structure to create greater stability in the state budget also ranked highly.  The state spends 93% of its funding on education, human services, and public safety-so it makes sense that citizens concerned about those programs would also be supportive of stabilizing state funding.  A large majority of survey respondents said they were in favor of changing the Constitution to have the Legislature meet every year versus every other year. We are a larger more complex state than we were in 1859 when the biennial session rule was adopted. 

Phil

Important Dates

Upcoming Town Hall Meetings:

April 25th at 11:30am with Senator Morrisette.  Kirk Room at Brownsville Public Library, 146 Spaulding Way, Brownsville, OR.

May 2nd at 11:30am Creswell Community Center, 99 South 1st, Creswell, OR.

May 16th -Save the Date    Joint Town Hall with Lane County Legislators to discuss the latest Revenue Forecast released the day before.

Other Events:

April 29 at 5pm
Attention entrepreneurs and those seeking venture capitol in the next two years! State Treasurer Ben Westlund is hosting a "Big Idea Bash." Meet decision makers in a "speed pitching" format to foster quick discussions about investment proposals. If you can get to Portland April 29th at 5pm check it out.  For more information and to RSVP visit: www.ost.state.or.us.

Legislative Report

Battling the cleverly nicknamed "capitol crud" the last couple of weeks has been challenging.  We all go through it, and it is never much fun.  Economic strain, like a cold virus, affects us all and sometimes we may need a bit of assistance to get us back on our feet.  Recently while I was down with the flu my assistant met with the Department of Human Services to find out more about what services and assistance they offer and how the higher unemployment levels have impacted responsiveness. 

As in other communities across the nation, unemployment rates in House District 11 have shot up over the last year.  Lane County's unemployment rate jumped from 6% last year to 11.9% and Linn County rocketed from 7.4% in February of 2008 to 13.3% today.  As a state we do not have much ability to shift a worldwide epidemic, but we are working to stabilize the state's economy.  Until then, assistance is available and your government agencies are adjusting to give critical support needed now. 

After hearing that there was an 80% increase in the number of two parent households receiving services, I knew we needed to write about this pressing matter.  Most Oregonians don't need to know about the Department of Human Services (DHS), since most individuals and two parent households normally don't need assistance.  My hope is to urge those who need help to seek the assistance available to hard-pressed citizens.  The people at DHS are knowledgeable and understanding and are there to work for you.

In our area, DHS works closely with the unemployment department and with local partners to provide a wide range of support.  For example, the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) program helps people get back to work.  In the meantime, families may be eligible for medical care, housing, and child care benefits depending on their situation.  DHS also offers mental health, alcohol or drug, and domestic violence assessments to get treatment for those hardest hit by the downturn.

In the last year, our district has seen a 33.3% increase in Employment Related Daycare, a 22.9% increase in Food Stamp recipients, and a 42.4% increase in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.  These numbers show that even relatively affluent districts like ours are not immune during economic recessions.  How does our district compare to neighboring districts and the state?  In short we had a bigger change in usage rates, but started out with a relatively low overall number of families utilizing services.  Neighboring areas with more low income and young families have not seen as much of an increase in rates but have in some cases four or five times the number of families relying on services.  The state has seen an increase in usage of 10.1%, 15.8% and 20.4% respectively. 

To serve increased need DHS made changes in some offices including extended hours and new staff.  DHS also switched to a new model that provides more preventative and specialized support to better serve Oregonians.  Federal decision makers made adjustments to programs as well-including increasing food stamp benefits by 13%. 

We have set up a reference guide on our website to find available services: http://www.leg.state.or.us/barnhart/

As always you can also contact our office and we will do what we can to get you connected.

Bills of Interest

I wanted to provide you with an easy way to find out what bills are coming in front of my committees and for vote on the House Floor.  Below are links to these agenda's

Revenue

Environment & Water

House Floor (Third Reading Notice)

You can track any measure by number here.