SALEM, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon legislative committee on Tuesday unanimously approved the distribution of one-time $500 relief checks to people who are still waiting for unemployment benefits.
But, when and how the payment program will operate is still a work in progress.
The $35 million program, which could reach up to 70,000 people, was approved by the Legislature’s Joint Emergency Board as coronavirus cases in the state continue to rise.
The Oregon Health Authority reported 380 new confirmed cases Tuesday, bringing the total amount of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state to 12,805.
In addition there were seven new deaths, matching the state’s current record of deaths reported in a singe day.
While the virus has infected and killed residents it also caused a surge in unemployment. More than 500,000 people filed unemployment claims since the start of the pandemic, causing major delays in people receiving funds.
The purpose of the new relief program, which would use funds from the CARES Act, is to provide support to Oregonians while the agency continues to work through its backlog.
“This isn’t a fix, this is a band-aid,” Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said last week. “We need to get cash into the hands of Oregonians who have been waiting on their benefits for months. As the department continues to clear claims, this money will help those who are still waiting.”
The Department of Administrative Services, which would administer the relief checks, is working with financial institutions to develop a process for Oregon workers to apply and receive the payment.
Katy Coba, the chief operating officer for the department, wrote to lawmakers and asked for additional guidance on how to determine who is eligible for the benefits, the Oregonian reported. Coba said it will take at least six weeks to set up the payments.
On Tuesday the legislative committee also approved of allocating $200 million from the Coronavirus Relief Funds to help Oregonians still feeling the impacts of this virus, including small businesses, Black communities, music and cultural organizations and workers who contracted, or were exposed to the virus, but do not qualify for traditional sick leave
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said while the funding helps those facing the “disparate impacts” of COVID-19, more still needs to be done.
“Without additional support from the federal government, our state and her people stand on the brink of catastrophe,” Kotek said. “Congress must act to pass urgently needed relief funds so we can weather this storm together.”