Oregon Democrats said Monday they won’t fund an additional stimulus bill for the state’s essential workers this session. They pledged to revive the idea during the Legislature’s short session in 2022, but it’s not clear there will be a ready funding source for the proposal next year.
Last week, 23 legislative Democrats signed on to co-sponsor House Bill 3409, which would have dedicated $450 million from Oregon’s share of federal stimulus money to pay bonuses and a back-to-work incentive to thousands of frontline workers.
Those workers could have received up to $2,000 in stimulus money if they worked through the pandemic, or $1,200 if they returned to work after collecting unemployment during the pandemic.
But with lawmakers racing to finish their regular legislative session this week, the Democrats who control the body say they will defer the idea until next year.
“Essential workers have been risking their lives every day during the pandemic. We must continue to put working families first as we recover from this public health and economic crisis in the short term — and as we rebuild our economy in the long-term,” House Speaker Tina Kotek said in a statement Monday. “That’s why my top priority for the remainder of Oregon’s share of federal American Rescue Plan dollars will be additional support for frontline workers in 2022.”
Oregon received $2.6 billion in state government funding from the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus bill Congress approved in March. Kotek’s office didn’t say how much federal stimulus money lawmakers expect still will be available when they return to Salem next year.
State labor leaders pushed hard for the additional stimulus payments this month, arguing that frontline workers deserved a reward for staying on the job despite the risk of infection from COVID-19. And some Democratic lawmakers argued that a back-to-work incentive would help combat the labor shortage facing Oregon employers.
Legislative Republicans had opposed the payments, arguing that it made no sense to pay more stimulus money while unemployed workers were receiving a $300 weekly bonus in federal compensation. They complained that bonus was keeping some prospective hires out of the workforce, and that Gov. Kate Brown hadn’t done enough to reopen schools and make it easier for parents to return to their jobs.