Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson's prepared remarks after adoption of the 2023 budget.
Thank you Madam Chair. First and foremost I’d like to thank you and your staff for the work you’ve done to complete this budget process. And as this is your last budget, I also want to thank you for your leadership in creating budgets over the years that center racial equity, prioritize proven programs and investments to combat homelessness, move Multnomah County forward on fighting climate change and transition off fossil fuels, and lead the critical work in responding to COVID. We’ve seen your values actualized in each budget you’ve presented and I am grateful for the ways you’ve always treated these budgets as a moral document.
I’d also like to thank the staff of my colleagues’ offices for their hard work over the last few weeks to get us to the finish line. And of course I want to thank my own staff for their work in preparing me for these budget hearings and moving our amendments and budget notes forward.
I’m proud of this budget, which invests additional resources in the most critical areas of our work: homelessness, behavioral health, gun violence, social services, health, and climate resilience.
I’m proud that on the homelessness front, the most urgent issue facing our community, this budget will nearly double our shelter capacity from before the pandemic to nearly 2,700 shelter beds. It funds congregate shelters, motel shelters, and alternative settings, such as villages, providing options for those living on our streets.
It will help more than 1,450 people move from homelessness back into housing, using case management and rental assistance and provides more than 1,700 units of supportive housing for adults and families escaping chronic homelessness.
We are investing $15 million to secure new properties that can be used as spaces for shelter, day centers or treatment, motels, shared housing and other strategic real property investments.
Importantly, it bolsters our data collection and program evaluation tools, to make sure that we are supporting programs that work.
As we are expanding our shelter system, we are going to need to better focus on engaging the communities in the areas around new shelters.
That’s why I’m proud to have fought for an amendment that will support community outreach and engagement when opening new shelters.
We know that there is a very real relationship between homelessness and behavioral health and this budget devotes $15.5 million to that intersectionality.
I know we are all excited about the opening of our downtown Behavioral Health Resource Center this fall and the investment of permanent supportive housing for up to 50 people experiencing homelessness who have been identified as frequent users of the homeless services, emergency healthcare and criminal justice systems.
And as mental health support is something needed for all our community, and especially our youth who have undergone so much stress and change over the last three years, I am so glad to see that we are investing in vital mental health services for children and young adults by adding case management to grades K-12 across our school-based health system.
Our community is still grappling with a severe gun violence crisis, and a focus of my work over the last year has been understanding how our investments in critical services and opportunities for personal growth and development can reduce gun violence.
This budget will pilot a program that I fought for, employing stipends to help people on supervision and/or people committing acts of gun violence build economic stability that steers them away from the feeling that they need to participate in dangerous behaviors.
And this budget continues our investment in behavioral health teams that specifically work with families impacted by gun violence.
We are also beginning a new pilot program that will co-locate deputy district attorneys with community based organizations in some of the communities most heavily impacted by serious crime, so that we can explore new models of community safety and enhance trust between the communities we serve and our prosecutors. I want to thank Commissioner Jayapal for submitting her amendment for this program and also for her openness in ensuring there would be two neighborhoods benefiting from this investment.
Preschool for All
Importantly, this budget continues our march toward Preschool for All. More than 600 children are slated to be enrolled this fall in high-quality, culturally responsive, inclusive preschool from 36 providers across 48 locations.
This budget increases the number of Early Childhood mental health consultants who can provide a comprehensive continuum of culturally relevant and responsive mental health services to children and their families in Preschool for All sites.
It also set aside resources to support facilities and workforce development to ensure that we grow our pipeline of early educators and preschool spaces needed to provide universal access.
I can’t wait for this fall when the first children will be entering classrooms as a result of Preschool for All.
In submitting amendments this year, I focused on investments that enhanced our neighborhoods and communities that were particularly struggling over the past two years and help set Multnomah County along paths to increase safety, community connections, and access to democracy.
We know that businesses have struggled over the last two years, and that reported vandalism in east county cities has increased threefold. That’s why we’ve set aside $100,000 in grant funding for small businesses in east county that have been impacted by vandalism.
And we will be enhancing our vector control efforts in areas with severe rat infestations, recognizing how challenging that issue has been for residents and small businesses.
We will be taking the initial steps necessary to establish a public financing program for Multnomah County’s elections, similar to the program established by the City of Portland, so that we can ensure that our elections are open to all, and not just the wealthy and privileged.
Finally, with the ruling overturning Roe v Wade expected to come out any day now, our Board took a clear stance in support of reproductive rights and justice by providing $200,000 to organizations that help ensure access to abortion.
Overall, this budget makes responsible and sustainable use of the remaining ARPA dollars we have to invest in our community’s ongoing response to COVID-19, as well as other programs that mitigate some of the worst effects of this pandemic, such as food insecurity.
And it sets aside additional reserves responsibly, for a rainy day.
Most importantly, it affirms our Board’s priorities and values, and makes worthwhile investments in services that will benefit every corner of our community.
I’m incredibly grateful for the many, many people throughout the County who worked hard to build this budget, for my colleagues Commissioners Meieren, Jayapal and Stegmann for the ways that their focus on strongly moving Multnomah County forward equitably and effectively has shown up in their investments in this budget, and again to my staff and the Chair’s staff, for Chair Kafoury’s work.
Congratulations to you.