One of the often overlooked roles of the Jewish Federation is its efforts in both Salem and Washington, D.C. (in coordination with the Jewish Federations of North America) to seek funding for our agency services and to take an active role on policy issues.The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland’s Community Relations Committee (CRC) seeks consensus positions that permit it to speak on behalf of the organized Jewish community concerning matters of public importance. Chaired by David Douglas, the committee consists of a broad cross-section of greater-Portland Jewry with representation from 18 congregations and agencies. It collaborates closely with other faith and ethnic communities on common social justice and civil rights issues and retains a contract lobbyist to help advance the legislative goals of our community in the state capital. The following is a summary of achievements by the CRC during the 2013 Oregon Legislature, which concluded earlier this month.
* A special thank you to Bob Horenstein, CRC Director, and George Okulitch, our lobbyist, for their work on this report.
The 77th Legislative Assembly adjourned on July 8th, several days before the constitutionally required deadline. Overall, legislators addressed PERS reform, as well as reform of the corrections system, increased the school budget by $1 billion, and invested more money in infrastructure and construction. They continued efforts to provide affordable, quality healthcare and also took critical steps to protect and sustain Oregon’s natural beauty, including passage of bills that promote energy efficiency and protect rivers from excessive mining. While many legislators considered the 2013 session a success, others thought it fell short, failing to pass the “grand bargain,” a combined comprehensive PERS reform and revenue package that leadership and the Governor negotiated over the last six months, but in the end were unable to deliver.
During the 2013 legislative session, the Community Relations Committee, pursued an ambitious agenda which you will see below (the full report can be read here). We felt our community’s voice was heard and that we accomplished much of our agenda.
Protecting Services for Seniors and People with Disabilities
The session ended successfully for seniors and people with disabilities. Unlike previous sessions where our community saw significant cuts and reductions in critical service budgets, this year’s legislative assembly reinvested and recommitted to making vulnerable populations a priority. Oregon’s 2013-15 overall state budget will provide seniors with a much stronger safety net of services, allowing them to live in comfort, independence and dignity.
Highlights of the budget include:
A 10.3% General Fund increase in the Aging and People with Disabilities (APD) budget. APD provides long-term care services to seniors and people with physical disabilities in their own homes, community-based care settings, and nursing facilities. This is an 18.4% increase over the 2011-13 budget.
Adoption of the K Waiver, commonly known as the Community First Choice Option. The K Waiver is an agreement Oregon has with the federal government to get a higher reimbursement rate for services. The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) provides incentives for states to serve more people in their communities rather than in institutions. Under the K Plan, the state will get an additional 6% in Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) for services provided through the Aging and People with Disability and Developmental Disabilities programs (APD); the enhanced rate is expected to generate over $200 million in federal funds in 2013-15.
Reauthorization of the long-term care and hospital provider assessment program that with Federal matching dollars will bring $1.6 billion in total funds for critical Medicaid services for Oregonians.
The addition of $9.1 million in General Funds ($29.2 million total funds) to increase home- and community-based care rates that have been flat since July 2008.
This budget brings good news for Cedar Sinai Park. With revenue increases, as well as a roughly 21% increase in the nursing home reimbursement rate, it’s estimated that the Robison Jewish Health Center will receive an additional $250,000 for fiscal year 2013-14.
Strengthening Food and Nutrition Programs
to Help End Hunger
JFGP advocated this session on several legislative items that help families in Oregon who are experiencing hunger. These bills help low-income seniors and families struggling to make ends meet by providing them with high quality nutritious and healthy foods.
House Bill 2992 authorizes the Oregon Health Authority, in partnership with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, to operate a Farm Direct Nutrition Program to provide supplemental assistance to participants in the Women, Infants and Children’s (WIC) program to purchase fresh, unprocessed, locally grown fruit and vegetables from farmers’ markets and roadside stands.
Senate Bill 5008 included $200,000 for the Senior Farm Direct Nutrition Program, which provides to eligible low-income seniors access to fresh Oregon-grown fruits, vegetables and cut herbs from farmers’ markets.
House Bill 2729, farm-to-school, invests $360,000 in Oregon agriculture and the health of our children by requiring local schools to purchase Oregon products for school breakfasts and lunches. Money also goes to schools to provide grants for school gardening, instilling in kids the value of farms and fresh grown produce.
JFGP supported additional funding for the Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services Budget, specifically money allocated for hunger prevention programs. The Oregon Hunger Response Fund uses the power of the Oregon Food Bank Network to acquire and distribute food through 20 regional food banks that supply over 900 local agencies and 435 food pantries.
The legislature appropriated an additional $500,000 to this fund, totaling $2,750,000 for the 2013-15 biennium.
Advocating to Protect Workers against Wage Theft
This year, the Community Relations Committee of the JFGP voted to support a broad array of wage theft legislation. It joined the Coalition Against Wage Theft and helped support the passage of House Bill 2977. This requires construction labor contractors to be licensed by the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI).
Iran Divestment Follow-Up & Support for Sudan Divestment
In 2012, JFGP was successful in passing bipartisan legislation encouraging the divestment of PERS funds from energy companies doing business in Iran. That bill was drafted and revised over a period of a year in collaboration and negotiation with the State Treasurer’s office.
This year, the state treasurer brought a similar bill forward to divest from Sudan. In the end, House Bill 2322 directed the Oregon Investment Council and the state treasurer to try to ensure that PERS monies are not invested in companies with an interest in Sudan.
As we move forward, the Jewish Federation and its Community Relations Committee will have discussions with legislative leadership and key budget members. We believe that as the economy improves and resources become more available, it is important that we continue to lobby legislators on senior services, programs to reduce poverty and hunger, and other important social issues. This is important work on behalf of our Jewish community – and the people in the State of Oregon.