Governor plans to plow federal cash into into housing, other rural initiatives in Oregon

Gov. Kate Brown. (Jonathan House/Pamplin Media)

An unexpected $6 billion flowing into the state treasury could fuel a “rapid economic recovery” in Oregon by helping workers, giving businesses more stabilities and providing communities cash for major projects.

That means a lot of new help could flow to Malheur County and other rural areas of the state.

The money is part of the massive American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion dollar package approved recently by Congress.

 “There are a lot of really cool ideas that are happening in eastern Oregon,” said Courtney Crowell, regional solutions coordinator for the state based in Baker City. “I’m hopeful this new funding can get some of those projects moving.”

Gov. Kate Brown last week announced broad outlines of how she would spend the money as part of her Economic Recovery Plan.

“The investment plan should be focused on big problems that we can make a dent in to help Oregon recover from the pandemic,” Brown said in statement regarding her plan.

 “This is one-time money that we should treat that way,” said Christian Gaston, the governor’s budget director. “We want to have maximum economic impact this year, spending money that’s having a big impact.”

The plan covers the economic landscape, seeking to help workers return to jobs or gain betters, give local businesses more stability, and improve housing.

Gaston said details will be forged in the coming weeks at the Legislature and through local communities. Crowell said regional advisory committees “will help set priorities.”

One step is to invest in “innovative housing,” according to the governor’s plan, that could include an effort to “turn commercial property into residential opportunity.”

Gaston said that could mean taking unused commercial property that “could turn into residential units.”

The plan also envisions putting money into “strategies related to Main Streets and downtown revitalization” to help get “small business back on its feet.” That also could include helping businesses that are “on the cusp of closing.”

Brown is putting in placeholders with details to follow, such as providing more money for community colleges. Their enrollment plummeted during the pandemic, cutting into their revenue, including at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario.

Gaston said that helping the community colleges is one key to helping rural economic development, particularly for career training.

Agriculture would get help too.

“We know that ag is an incredibly important driver” for the state economy, Gaston said. He said the governor’s economic advisers said the prior help to the industry along with faster distribution of Covid vaccine could help the industry recover faster.

Crowell said part of helping workers is addressing “child care deserts” that leave families struggling to find care while holding jobs.

“This could provide a huge opportunity to get child care off the ground,” Crowell said.

 Gaston noted that local governments, from cities to counties, will be get their own federal money from the American Rescue Plan. He said the state could use its money to support local efforts and “help make projects go smoother, go faster.”

“These funds are game-changing in size and scope, and the public needs to see – and inform – how these dollars will work for them,” Brown said in her statement.

 Contact editor Les Zaitz at [email protected].


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