FY 23 Budget Remarks

June 16, 2022

Budget day is always a big day, and this one is especially so. 

This budget is a budget of opportunity. 

Although the pandemic is by no means in our rear view mirror, the conditions are very different than they were when we adopted our FY21 budget. In June of 2021, Multnomah County had a first dose vaccination rate of about 69%. Today, we have a first dose rate of 92%, and a second dose rate of 81%. For some time now, children older than 5 have been eligible to be vaccinated, and just as of today, all children - including those younger than 5 - can be vaccinated. Boosters are readily available, and antiviral pills can help prevent serious illness.

On the economic front, the growth in business income tax revenue created by the BIT rate increase led by the Chair and adopted in 2020, plus the strong performance of some of our largest businesses, has created a positive revenue forecast for the first time since I’ve been on the Board. These conditions have given us the opportunity to create a foundation not only for recovery, but for a more equitable, sustainable recovery. 

On houselessness, as we move into the second year of Supportive Housing Services Measure revenue we are making significant new investments in emergency shelter, housing placement and retention, supportive housing services, and outreach and navigation. There is no one strategy that will solve homelessness, and this budget presents a balanced approach across the spectrum of homelessness response.

It’s almost impossible to pick highlights, but I’ll mention the strategic capital fund that will allow us to respond to opportunities to acquire or invest in property for shelter or housing, and a master leasing pilot to recruit additional landlords into our rental pool. Both are current investments that will build future capacity. And I also want to highlight as particularly important some new investments that address the intersection of homelessness and behavioral health. These include the Behavioral Health Resource Center, scheduled to open in the fall, which will provide a one-stop shop for people experiencing homelessness and mental health or addiction issues; new behavioral health-focused shelter programs which will provide shelter and services specifically designed for this population; and new permanent housing programs run by behavioral health service providers. 

Every Multnomah County resident deserves to live in safety, free from the fear of violence. We continue to experience a tragic escalation in gun violence, and this budget includes long term strategies to address the root causes and consequences of violence, as well as strategies that can have more immediate impact. Youth employment is a proven strategy to combat youth violence, and this budget contains a $1 million expansion of our youth employment and opportunity programs funded by the American Rescue Plan and secured by Senator Dembrow. The lack of economic stability is a contributing factor to violence; and a new Gun Violence Interruption pilot program will provide stipends to people at risk of engaging in violence, and engage them as credible messengers to prevent gun violence. The budget also includes additional funding for gun dispossession and for prosecution of crimes involving gun violence. 

Among the communities most impacted by COVID were our immigrant and refugee communities. The pandemic highlighted the need to strengthen our systems for engaging with and supporting these communities. In FY22, we initiated a study of existing services for immigrants and refugees; and I’m very appreciative of the Chair’s including in next year’s budget a new position dedicated following up on the recommendations from that study. I’m also excited about important County investments on climate and resilience, including a wood stove changeout program, cooling support for severe heat events, and a new Climate Resilience Coordinator to develop policies that will help our residents meet the climate challenges we know we’ll continue to face.

My amendments this year focused on three areas: core human services infrastructure needs; new strategies to deal with pressing issues; and planning for new work on economic equity for Multnomah County residents.

First, core human service infrastructure needs. Our work rests on the shoulders of our amazing County employees; and the equally amazing front-line employees of our nonprofit partners. We are part of an interdependent ecosystem that includes the nonprofit human services workers who staff our shelters, provide wrap-around services to immigrant families, and support our children in schools. 

But part of that ecosystem is at risk. It’s at risk because for too long, our society at large has undervalued this work - performed largely by BIPOC, and by women - and has underpaid its workers. As a result, too many of those frontline workers struggle to find housing themselves, and struggle to survive in our county. This is neither equitable nor sustainable. If nonprofits can’t hire or retain workers, and if those workers themselves need our services, our residents will not get the quality of services they deserve, and this ecosystem cannot hold together. 

These issues are exacerbated by today’s inflationary economy; but for frontline nonprofit workers, that inflation sits on top of a significant pre-existing wage gap that is now built into the system.

This is not just a County issue. It’s a City of Portland issue, it’s a state issue, it’s a federal issue, and it’s a philanthropy issue.  In fact, over the years, the County has done far more than any other funder to address it. Under the Chair’s leadership, we have consistently provided more generous Cost of Living Adjustments to our nonprofit partners than have other jurisdictions and funders; the Chair’s budget included a 4% COLA for next year; and her amendment sets aside another 1% in contingency. These are all ways in which the County has led on trying to provide equity for nonprofit workers.

And, we also have to address the underlying wage gap. Cost of living adjustments keep the gap from getting worse - they don’t bring workers up to a living wage. That’s why I greatly appreciate the wage study and support for development of long term, global solutions proposed in the Chair’s budget, and all of the work the Chair and her office have invested in exploring ways to tackle this complicated issue.

This budget has given us the opportunity to make some smaller, short term adjustments as we continue to work on the more long term, global approaches. My Wage Equity Adjustment amendment provides a 1% adjustment for our contractors, to be applied toward wages. This will not come close to bridging the wage gap, but it’s a signal of our commitment to finding longer term solutions, it highlights the urgency of this issue, and once again, it points the way for other jurisdictions and funders.

The two other amendments I’d like to highlight are my amendments reallocating funding in order to pilot the District Attorney’s Multnomah Attorney Access Program, or MAAP; and my amendment funding one FTE in the Department of County Human Services to begin planning for innovative strategies to create economic empowerment and equity.

The MAAP program will place a Deputy District Attorney at each of two locations in the County, with the objective of creating a community-based approach to public safety. The DAs will engage with community members and partners, problem solve to prevent crime, and address safety needs specific to those geographic areas. This is an opportunity to try a new approach to community safety and to the way that our prosecutors engage with community, and it has support from a wide range of community organizations. Along with those partners, we will closely monitor the impacts of the program to ensure that it promotes safety, prioritizes connection to services, and does not create disproportionate impact for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color; people experiencing houselessness; and other marginalized groups; and I’m really pleased to be able to support the District Attorney’s office in this effort.

And finally, my amendment for an Economic Equity pilot. As a social safety net provider, the bulk of the County’s work involves addressing the conditions created by poverty. Over the past few years, we’ve also begun to add programs that actually lift people out of poverty. These include programs that remove barriers to economic mobility, provide unrestricted cash assistance, and build assets. The FTE funded by this amendment will develop additional strategies for building economic equity, by assessing existing County programs where economic stability is a component; outreach and engagement centering the voices of communities of color; and research of other community models.

As I said at the beginning, this budget is a budget of opportunity. None of that opportunity would be possible without the many, many people who have worked to bring it to fruition.

Chair, thank you and congratulations on your final budget. It is the culmination of 13 (?) years of exceptional service and leadership to Multnomah County, and it has the potential to be transformational. And thank you also to your team, every single one of them and particularly Kim Melton, for the extraordinary effort that has gotten us here.

Christian Elkin, Jeff Renfro, Eric Arellano, and everyone on your teams - thank you, for the late nights, the patient responses to questions, and the careful stewardship that allows us to be the sound position we’re in, even with the potential of headwinds and uncertainty ahead. You are all amazing.

To our Department Heads and all of your teams - this budget is the culmination of a year of work. Thank you for creating one that truly reflects our County values, and I hope you can take a bit of a break before you start working on the next one.

To my colleagues, thank you as always for your partnership, your commitment to the residents of Multnomah County, and for our shared values. I learn from each of you every day.

To my team - Monique Smiley, Jesse Rawlins, and Sara Ryan - thank you so much for your work throughout the year, and particularly to Sara, for your work on this budget.

And as always, to all of our amazing, amazing County employees - as I said before, this work rests on your shoulders. None of it would be possible without you, and it’s my honor to serve with you.