Brown calls for $200 million in workforce spending, offers few details

Gov. Kate Brown speaks with Dutch Bros CEO Joth Ricci at the Oregon Business Plan summit in Portland on Monday, Dec. 6. (Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

PORTLAND – Gov. Kate Brown used an annual gathering of Oregon politicians and business leaders to push for a new $200 million package she plans to seek during the 2022 legislative session. 

During a brief speech responding to the Oregon Business Council’s plan for the next decade, Brown urged a crowd at the Oregon Convention Center to pressure legislators to pass her spending plan. 

“The goal is to make sure that we remove barriers, that we provide support and wraparound services, particularly for folks in our historically underserved communities, folks who are coming out of prison, young people who are disconnected,” Brown said. “We have to make sure their voices are at the forefront of this work.”

According to a short summary shared by Brown’s communication team after the speech, nearly half of the funding would go toward competitive grants for programs to prepare individuals to work.

The $95 million available in grant funding could be used for direct stipends to Oregonians participating in apprenticeships, or to subsidize other costs, like child care, housing and transportation, for people learning new skills. Grant money could also be used to expand existing programs that prepare workers for new careers.

Brown’s plan also calls for giving $35 million to local workforce boards, $17 million for career programs at community colleges and $20 million for apprenticeship programs.

The plan would create a new pilot program with $10 million in initial funding for local community-based organizations to hire employees who can help Oregonians navigate benefits available to them.

Overall, Brown told Dutch Bros CEO Joth Ricci, who hosted the event, Oregon has done a good job responding to Covid. The state’s Covid mortality and infection rates are among the lowest in the nation. 

But state officials failed by not focusing on people of color in its response to the pandemic, Brown said. Demographic data released by the Oregon Health Authority shows that Oregonians of Hispanic descent were disproportionately impacted with higher infection rates, job losses and deaths by the pandemic. 

Currently, about 16% of the nearly 400,000 Oregonians who have had Covid are Latino, though Latinos make up only 13% of the state’s population. Earlier in the pandemic, roughly one out of five Covid cases were among Latinos.

“We saw the impact of the pandemic on our Latino, Latina, Latinx community members and it was devastating and we have to change that,” Brown said. 

Brown publicly referred to her spending package for the first time in mid-November, when she responded to a rosy economic forecast by saying she was convening a group to develop spending proposals aimed at getting people back to work and improving career opportunities. State forecasters said the state would collect millions more in taxes than had been budgeted.

She said Monday that at least some of the money would be spent to diversify Oregon’s health care workforce. One starting point, Brown said, is the vaccine outreach such as that being done by Latinas in communities including Forest Grove. 

“They had mostly Latino women, Latinas, going out and knocking on doors, essentially serving as community health workers in that community to provide information and education and access regarding vaccines,” Brown said. “It would be great for these folks to be able to move up in the health care career pipeline, if they choose to do that.”

Brown also called racial justice her top priority for the state to tackle by 2030, followed by climate change and housing. The state’s elected officials need support from the business community to make progress on those issues, she said. 

“This is not just DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) work,” she said. “This is literally culture change, and we all have to be committed to it.” 

On climate change, she said the state government needed to continue its current work, while businesses need to continue providing new services like the electric vehicle charging station that Daimler Trucks North America and Portland General Electric opened off Interstate 5 in Portland earlier this year. 

Brown and legislators also need business leaders to help with increasing the number of homes in Oregon, she said. During her nearly seven years in office, the state government has spent about $1.5 billion on housing initiatives, Brown said, and she expects to add $190 million to that sum after the Legislature convenes in a special session on eviction protections next week.

“It feels and it looks like this has been a drop in the bucket, and so we have to continue to make these significant investments,” she said. 

The Oregon Business Plan calls for building between 30,000 and 40,000 new homes or apartment units per year by 2030. Over the past five years, the state has averaged about 20,000 homes per year. 

The plan also calls for adding at least 20,000 more manufacturing jobs by 2030 and replacing the aging Interstate 5 bridge over the Columbia River. Ricci said such goals are subject to change over the next year, as Oregon elects a new governor and Congress continues attempts to pass the Biden administration’s social spending bill. 

“The list will undoubtedly be shaped by political dialogue in the coming year,” he said.

The group already shifted its priorities for the decade ahead because of the pandemic, new attention to race spurred by 2020 protests over police violence against Black people and the stress of wildfire and drought. 

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