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Oregon Senate clears money for summer programs, wildfire recovery
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Oregon Senate clears money for summer programs, wildfire recovery

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Money for summer educational and recreational programs, wildfire recovery and other purposes is included in budget bills on their way to Gov. Kate Brown.

The Oregon Senate voted Thursday to pass three bills to rebalance the current state budget. The House passed them April 1.

One of the bills adds $250 million for summer educational and recreational programs. It also has $3.7 million for 11 local governments to repair damage from the September wildfires and $20 million for seven local governments to fund shelters — known as navigation centers — that help people find housing and other services. One of those centers is in Bend, which is getting $2.5 million.

"The past year has been hard on our students and their families. They are struggling with school... and their mental health. Today, we made sure they have opportunities to learn and play this summer," Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said in a statement after the vote. "We also passed funding for communities dealing with homelessness and last year's fires."

More than $1.1 million in wildfire recovery money will be shared by Marion County, the cities of Detroit and Gates, and the Idanha-Detroit Rural Fire Protection District, which lost its truck in the Beachie Creek wildfire.

"The process of rebuilding from fire is just beginning and this money will provide the first step to help families get their lives back," Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod of Lyons, who lost his home in the fire, said afterward. "I look forward to securing more funding for my community."

Summer programs

Here are details of the $250 million for summer programs:

• For high school students behind on their credits for the past two academic years because of the coronavirus pandemic, $71.9 million, with school districts putting up a 25% match from federal pandemic aid they will get separately. Districts qualify for money if half of high school students participate.

• For students from kindergarten through fifth grade, $93.7 million, with school districts putting up a 25% match, for academic or other enrichment programs. Districts will get money based on the distribution formula for regular state aid, but more weight will be given to students at the poverty level. Assuming a cost of $1,800 per student, the state estimates that up to 70,000 children could benefit.

• For child care, $30 million, plus $10 million in federal funds.

• For preschool programs, $12 million. plus $11.2 million in federal funds, for one-time activities this summer.

• For summer recreation activities, $40 million that the Oregon Community Foundation will award in grants to public agencies and nonprofit groups, such as the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs.

• For parents whose children have disabilities, suffer from trauma or are at risk of placement into the child welfare system, $1.2 million. The state estimates this program could support about 600 parents.

Money not spent by Jan. 1 will return to state coffers.

The $250 million package is attached to a larger bill that enables lawmakers to rebalance the budgets of state agencies before the close of the two-year state budget cycle on June 30. Some of the proposed spending for summer programs will carry over into the next cycle, which starts July 1.

The larger bill passed, 23-5. Independent Brian Boquist of Dallas joined Republicans Dallas Heard of Roseburg, Dennis Linthicum of Klamath Falls, Art Robinson of Cave Junction and Chuck Thomsen of Hood River to vote against it.

Thomsen had his own proposal to give students and families vouchers to allow them to pick summer learning and recreational programs, rather than put the money into what he called the "status quo."

"After a year of school closures, I surely support getting out kids caught up," he said, but not by giving money to schools. (The money for recreational programs will be awarded by the Oregon Community Foundation.)

Two other bills passed by votes of 28-1; Heard was the lone dissenter.

Other spending

Other items of note:

• $3.7 million total in grants to 11 local governments, including $220,000 to the city of Estacada, for repair of wildfire damage.

• $20 million total in grants to seven local governments, including $2.5 million for the city of Bend, for navigation centers that help people find housing and other services.

• $20 million from marijuana sales taxes during this budget cycle for the Oregon Health Authority to start work on the new addiction recovery centers that Oregon voters approved in Measure 110 last year. Senate Bill 846, which the Senate passed March 25 but the House has not yet considered, would set the start date for the new centers on Jan. 1, instead of Oct. 1 as stated in Measure 110.

• $2.9 million to the Oregon Food Bank to enable it to make emergency food purchases. The food bank and its network of 20 regional banks received $2.9 million in December to cover emergency purchases for the first three months of this year.

• $15.7 million in federal funds from the National Guard Bureau for construction of a third barracks and associated buildings at Camp Umatilla, an Oregon National Guard training center in Hermiston. The original federal grant for two barracks was $11.3 million.

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