Above image from The Washington times. [volume] (Washington [D.C.]), 27 Aug. 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.

Democrats in the News

April 28, 2021

Wyden, Merkley: Oregon to Receive More Than $90 Million in Relief for Homeowners

COVID Aid for Oregonians is From American Rescue Plan

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today announced that Oregon will be allocated more than $90 million in federal assistance from the American Rescue Plan for homeowners struggling to pay their mortgage, home insurance and utility payments because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 “No one should have to fear losing their home due to circumstances beyond their control, like a global pandemic,” Wyden said. “The economic fallout of this public health crisis has underlined just how close many Oregonians to losing the roof over their heads to defaults and foreclosures. The American Rescue Plan has thrown our state and our nation a vital lifeline, and these funds will go a long way toward remedying some of that hardship.”

“Everyone—regardless of the color of their skin, their zip code, or their income—deserves a safe, affordable roof over their head,” said Merkley. “But for so many families, this pandemic has caused losses of income and new, unexpected costs, making it especially hard to keep up with mortgage payments. I’m grateful that this funding is headed to our state where it will help Oregonians stay in their homes, and will continue to work to secure the funding our communities need to make housing more accessible and affordable during the coronavirus crisis and beyond.”

Wyden and Merkley both voted for the American Rescue Plan Act, which among its provisions provides up to $9.96 billion in relief nationwide for homeowners through the Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF). The purpose of the HAF is to prevent mortgage delinquencies and defaults, foreclosures, loss of utilities or home energy services, and displacement of homeowners experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Funds from the HAF may be used for assistance with mortgage payments, homeowner’s insurance and utility payments. Homeowners who have experienced the greatest hardships will be prioritized.

HAF funds will be distributed through Oregon Housing & Community Services

“We know that tens of thousands of Oregon homeowners have fallen behind on their mortgage because of unemployment, reduced hours, or lost small business revenue during the COVID pandemic,” said Emily Reiman, CEO of DevNW. “Combined with a temporary foreclosure moratorium, we’re so grateful for the support of Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley for getting this financial assistance is a huge step forward in helping homeowners recover and preventing a wave of foreclosures that would devastate Oregon families.”

“This critical funding will directly help struggling Oregon families when they need it most. Oregon REALTORS® believes no one should lose their home because we have stayed home through the pandemic, and this will help tremendously," said Jenny Pakula, CEO of Oregon REALTOR®.

“Community Connection of Northeast Oregon, Inc. is eager to assist our residents in Baker, Grant, Union, and Wallowa counties with the Homeownership Assistance Funds that Senators Wyden and Merkley successfully advocated for,” said Margaret Davidson, Executive Director, Community Connection of Northeast Oregon, Inc. “We personally know of many homeowners who have been waiting months and months for assistance with their loans that have fallen into default because of the COVID-10 pandemic.”

“For homeowners earning a low income, the pandemic has brought severe challenges and threatened the stability and sanctuary that enabled many to safely shelter-in-place,” said Steve Messinetti, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Portland Region. “From missed mortgage payments to overdue utility bills, Oregonians who lost a job still risk losing what is likely the biggest asset they own--their home. The Homeowner Assistance Fund will help prevent a mass wave of displacement and ensure that hard working families, like Habitat homeowners, hold on to their piece of the American Dream.”

 

For more press releases from Senator Wyden click here.

Merkley, Bipartisan Group of Colleagues Request Review of Federal Wildland Firefighter Workforce

Thursday, April 29, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley teamed up with a bipartisan group of colleagues this week in sending a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) requesting an assessment of hiring and retention of federal firefighters at five agencies responsible for wildland fire management.

“As the fire season becomes more intense, it is also growing longer in duration as a result of climate change.  The Forest Service estimates that current fire seasons are lasting 78 days longer than they did in 1970.  Wildfires in the West are now a near-constant threat and we can no longer afford to rely on just a seasonal firefighting workforce,” the senators wrote to GAO Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.

“Given the increasing threat, and the fact that the federal government is responsible for managing substantial areas of land within Western states, it is crucial that federal agencies have the firefighting capacity and resources they need,” they continued.

In conducting its review, the senators urged GAO to:

  1. Identify barriers to recruitment and retention of federal firefighters at the wildland fire agencies;

  2. Assess the seasonal firefighter employment model used by wildland fire agencies, and make recommendations for transitioning to a full-time firefighting workforce; and,

  3. Review the current job series and pay scale of Forest Service and Interior Department wildland firefighters to ensure their pay is commensurate with state firefighting agencies and reflects their training requirements and the hazardous conditions they must endure.

Merkley is the Chair of the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, which controls funding for wildfire management efforts undertaken by the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior. Prior to stepping into that role in January 2021, Merkley had been a leader in protecting Americans from wildfires, and in fighting for the bold, decisive action needed to address climate chaos, which is causing hotter and drier summers and fueling more catastrophic wildfires in the first place. That work includes introducing legislation to help communities harmed by wildfire smoke, as well as legislation to create economic opportunities in forest-dependent communities while reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires. During the Trump administration, Merkley convinced Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to reverse course on a disastrous plan to shut down Civilian Conservation Centers, which are Job Corps sites operated by the U.S. Forest Service that help fight fires.

In addition to Merkley, the request to GAO was also made by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Steve Daines (R-MT), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

 

For more press releases from SenatorMerkley click here.

Statement from Rep. Peter DeFazio on President Biden’s Joint Address to Congress

Apr 28, 2021

Press Release

Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR-04) today released the following statement on President Joe Biden’s Joint Address to Congress:

“After four years of the Trump Administration, it is an absolute relief to have a president who is prioritizing America’s working families, not its billionaires and corporations.

“The staggering economic inequality that has been allowed to flourish over the past several decades has totally decimated our middle class, while the wealthiest have only gotten wealthier. The President’s American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan will reinvest in a strong US economy by creating millions of jobs, investing in the American people—and by finally demanding America’s wealthiest to pay their fair share.

“I applaud President Biden’s intent to roll back some of the worst parts the Republicans’ Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017, which gave massive handouts to corporations and the wealthiest Americans. The American people want a fair-share tax system and an economy that rewards work, not wealth.

“To that end, I am pleased that the President has proposed raising the top individual tax rate back to 39.6 percent, where it sat before the Republican tax bill was enacted, and the corporate rate to 28 percent. Our current tax system is full of corporate loopholes, which Wall Street abuses with reckless abandon. It’s abhorrent that last year fifty-five of the nation’s largest and most profitable companies got away with paying nothing in taxes instead of paying their fair share, like everyday Americans do. I’m also pleased to see the President’s calls to increase capital gains taxation on billionaires. It’s unacceptable that billionaires can have a lower effective tax rate than a teacher, grocery clerk or nurse. The money collected from these targeted tax increases will go directly to supporting working families, seniors, and the American people.

“While our tax code has been designed to give billionaires and huge corporations handouts, the very agency responsible for collecting their taxes—the IR—is woefully underfunded, understaffed, and outmatched. This has resulted in an oversized “tax gap” that forces working families to subsidize the tax bill for top earners to the tune of thousands of dollars each year. Everyday Americans shouldn’t have to pay the tax bill of those who cheat the tax code. That’s why I’ve have worked hard to ensure the IRS has the tools it needs to close this gap, and I applaud President Biden’s pledge to fix this gross inequity with a much-needed investment in the IRS that will deliver billions in return. Like the President’s plan, my bill, the IRS Enhancement and Tax Gap Reduction Act, would make significant investments in the IRS to equip the agency to collect from top earners what the government is owed. My legislation would also set minimum audit levels to ensure the highest-earners are held accountable and pay what they legitimately owe. If working families are paying what they owe, America’s corporations and wealthiest individuals should be too.

“The past fourteen months have finally laid bare how critical quality childcare is to working families. No one should be forced to leave their job because they can’t find childcare, and yet we’ve seen millions of women, leave the workforce over the past year to become full-time caretakers. Too many American families spend the majority of their earnings simply on childcare. That’s unacceptable. The American Families Plan will provide direct support to families to ensure that low- and middle-income families spend no more than seven percent of their income on childcare, and that the childcare they access is of high-quality. President Biden’s plan also guarantees universal Pre-K education, giving American children a head start and helping future generations better compete in an increasingly globalized world.

“Similarly, I am encouraged to see efforts to invest in paid family and medical leave. We are eons behind other developed nations when it comes to paid leave and family care, and it puts our country, and our families, at a great disadvantage. Families should not have to choose between a paycheck and caring for their newborn or tending to a sick loved one.

“I’ve long supported legislation to make prescription drug prices affordable for all Americans, including finally allowing Medicare to directly negotiate prices so seniors can afford the drugs they need. For decades, pharmaceutical corporations have price-gouged consumers on life-saving medications—often developed with taxpayer dollars—while seniors ration their medications because they can’t afford them and families routinely choose between treatment or paying bills. That’s why I will be reintroducing my legislation to require the federal government to negotiate affordable prices for prescription drugs developed with taxpayer money. Americans should not pay to develop a drug only to see it put on the shelves in the U.S. at a much higher price than other nations. While drug pricing reform was not included in the President’s proposal, I will continue pushing to include these reforms in the final legislative package considered in Congress.

“I’m tremendously encouraged to see the Biden Administration prioritizing the affordability and accessibility of higher education, including expanding Pell Grants and making two years of community college free for America’s students to obtain an associate’s degree or workforce certificate. We cannot expect to prepare Americans to be competitive in a 21st century economy if we do not provide them a pathway to an education. However, for too many Americans, the financial barriers to obtaining and paying for a higher education are insurmountable. I’ve long-believed an education—whether from a vocational school, a community college, or a traditional four-year college—ought to provide opportunities for students, not financial burdens. 

“Tonight, President Biden spoke directly and clearly to Congress and all of America about the urgent need to invest in our infrastructure in order to create good-paying jobs and restore the middle class, bolster America’s competitive edge in the global economy by spurring American manufacturing and ingenuity, and address one of the greatest challenges of our time—our changing climate. The reality is that we can’t afford NOT to make these investments. That is why my committee will be considering surface transportation reauthorization legislation next month that will lay the groundwork for a significant portion of the American Jobs Plan. Our bill will propose transformational investments to move our infrastructure and transportation systems out of the Eisenhower era and into the modern era, with a focus on creating infrastructure resilient to our changing climate, electrifying our highway system, reconnecting communities and creating opportunity, moving projects across the finish line, and making historic investments in transit, rail, and other cleaner mobility options as we push toward a zero carbon pollution transportation sector. And in doing so, we’ll create jobs—millions of jobs—that can’t be exported. It’s time for big and bold policy changes, and I look forward to working with President Biden, Vice President Harris, Secretary Buttigieg, and my colleagues in Congress in order to get transformational infrastructure legislation signed into law this year.”

 

For more press releases from Congressman DeFazio click here.