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Business and Labor

Emergency Relief Payments For Distressed Oregonians Have Run Out

Erik Neumann/JPR
Residents who experienced economic hardship during the pandemic wait outside Rogue Credit Union in Ashland on Thursday. State lawmakers created a one-time $500 emergency program for individuals who haven't received all their unemployment benefits.

Oregon residents hard-pressed by economic disruptions caused by the coronavirus started receiving emergency payments authorized by state lawmakers on Thursday. By Friday morning, the program was already running out of money.

UPDATED: Friday, Aug. 21, 4:00 p.m. ... A line of about 50 people stretched around the outside of the Rogue Credit Union in Ashland on Thursday. Like many Oregonians who experienced severe financial hardship during the pandemic, they were there to get $500 emergency checks from the state, meant for people who haven’t gotten all their unemployment benefits.

“It’s all about paying rent at this point,” says Zoe Krause. Before the pandemic Krause worked at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Ashland YMCA. In May the theater company canceled their season and laid off the majority of their staff.

Krause says the YMCA has had to shorten employee hours due to cancelled memberships.

“I also have vet bills coming up because my cat is real sick,” she says. “So, basically the $500 is going to pay for her next couple vet bills. I won’t have to be so worried probably for the next like, month, two months.”

The relief payments come from a $35 million fund approved by state lawmakers. The one-time emergency payments started on Thursday. They go until the money runs out.

Ben Lajimodiere was also in line. He’s a handyman who takes care of Airbnb vacation rentals. Lately, he’s been surviving on savings.

“I’m down to, like, no gas right now, so it’d come in really handy right now. And some groceries,” he says. After living in Ashland for the past five years, Lajimodiere had to move into an RV during the pandemic. The emergency check will be a big help.

“It’s everything, you know? Food, water, survival,” he says.

Susan Stevens has a job cleaning houses. But without much business, she’s only able to work 12 to 15 hours per week, she says. Stevens filed for unemployment but never received the benefits. On Thursday her boss told her to go to the bank to try to get the stimulus check.

“I’m behind in my car insurance. This will help me get caught up. It’s going to relieve a lot of stress,” Stevens says. “And actually, I’m living in a garage. So, basically, I’m homeless.”

The Oregon legislature approved the $35 million program in July, drawing from federal coronavirus relief dollars sent to the state. The program will give $500 checks to up to 70,000 Oregonians experiencing economic dislocation caused by the pandemic.

To be eligible, applicants must have grossed less than $4,000 a month before losing their work situation. They also have to be a current Oregon resident 18 years old or above, and attest that they're experiencing severe economic difficulties because of the state's coronavirus shutdown orders.

But by Friday morning, as banks and credit unions around the state faced full parking lots and long lines of applicants, state officials said the money was running out.

In a statement Friday morning, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney thanked the banks that helped the state distribute the money, but acknowledged the shortfall.

"We’ve said from the beginning that we know this is not enough money to help all of those in need. But we had to take action to get money directly to people as quickly as possible and this is a tremendous example of Oregonians pitching in to help our most vulnerable.”

House Speaker Tina Kotek said Congress and the President needed to step up to help fill the gap.

“These last couple days have put a spotlight on just how dire the need is all across the state. We have to get more money to help people. The federal government has the ability to make direct stimulus payments to Americans whose lives are in jeopardy and are not doing so. I find this incredibly frustrating and disappointing.”