Community shares feedback on proposed FY 2025 budget at May 8 budget hearing

May 15, 2024

On Wednesday, May 8, dozens of community members filled the Multnomah County Boardroom or joined online for the first public hearing on Multnomah County’s proposed FY 2024-25 budget.

They advocated for a range of investments — including the Multnomah Idea Lab, programs focused on climate change and sustainability, specific homeless services programs, and more.

The Board, which has also been holding hours-long public work sessions with County departments and offices, is scheduled to adopt a final budget June 6.

Multnomah Idea Lab/Multnomah Mother’s Trust

Several community members urged the County to continue funding the Multnomah Idea Lab. The program is housed in the Department of County Human Services and focuses on piloting new policy approaches, with a specific focus on addressing poverty and racism. The proposed FY 2025 budget recommends no longer funding the program in the Human Services administration to meet constraints necessary to close a deficit between the County’s operating revenues and expenses. The goal is to preserve direct services to Department program participants.

Several people shared support for a specific Multnomah Idea Lab program, the Multnomah Mother’s Trust. The pilot program, which launched in 2021, serves approximately 100 Black female-headed households with children, providing them with unconditional basic income of about $500 per month.

Sharon Rae Richen (center right) spoke as a member of the Interfaith Alliance on Poverty in support of continuing to fund the Multnomah Mother's Trust.

“Multnomah Mother's Trust invests in the women by providing them the necessary margin to realistically address their needs each month,” said Gail Black, a representative from the Interfaith Alliance on Poverty. “Coupled with the key elements of peer support, one-on-one counseling, down payment assistance and debt relief, these educational components have shown measurable improvements in the participants’ economic stability.”

“You all have discovered a program that works. What better reasons are there to keep this program?” said Sharon Rae Richen, also from the Interfaith Alliance on Poverty. “If you believe in people, they can believe in themselves. And amazing things can happen as a result.”

Several participants described the program’s impact on their lives. “Having a basic income from Multnomah Mother’s Trust has meant that I could get out of debt sooner and save to afford a down payment on my first home in December 2022,” said Jamilah Trent. “These programs need to exist to support other moms like me. Black mothers. Moms that want to create generational wealth. Moms that empower other moms to pursue their best life for themselves and their children.”

Toxic algae bloom mitigation in the Ross Island Lagoon

Others supported funding for an Oregon State University project to improve the Ross Island Lagoon in the Willamette River. The project, speakers said, stems from studies that suggest adding a channel to the lagoon could reduce future toxic algae blooms in the Willamette River. Those blooms, which originate in the lagoon, have become a recurring problem during the hot summer months, spreading across the Willamette River.

"You might be familiar with these blooms that have affected us in the summer each year. It's not just a problem of turning the river green, but it's also extremely dangerous for people and pets and will keep people out of the river in the hottest months of the year,” said Joshua Cohen.

Proponents testified in favor of a $150,000 budget amendment proposed by Commissioner Sharon Meieran to help fund the project.

“We now have a scientific, peer-reviewed proof of concept that adding a channel to the lagoon will not only break up the stagnation but open up critical shallow water habitat that's inaccessible,” said Desiree Tullos of Oregon State University, who helped design the project. “The river is such an important place to so many people, and people have generously shared their time and their ideas because they are so passionate about protecting and restoring it.” 

Future Generations Collaborative and FaithBridge

Community members requested funding for culturally specific community health and safety organizations, including the Future Generations Collaborative, specifically its early childhood program, and FaithBridge, which provides culturally specific healing resources for women emerging from trauma and/or life transitions.

Lisa Saunders (left), founder of FaithBridge, spoke in support of increasing County funding for the program, which provides culturally specific healing resources for women emerging from trauma and/or life transitions.
Lisa Saunders, founder of FaithBridge, asked the County to expand funding for the program, which in the proposed budget will be receiving enough funding to sustain its existing services into next fiscal year.

“We're here tonight to say the Black and Brown women in this County deserve to heal, and if budgets are moral documents, then a grave injustice has indeed been done. Those most harmed know best what is necessary to recover,” Saunders said. “Suicide rates for Black women between the ages of 25 to 44 have risen 72% in recent years, and an estimated eight out of 10 Black women have experienced some sort of trauma. So just like the refrain, ‘I can't breathe,’ maybe we need to say, ‘I can't heal.’”

“When I first went to the cohort, I was drinking on a daily basis. I did not have my son with me, and I was broken. And I was in an unhealthy relationship,” said Natasha Kemplin, a former FaithBridge participant. “During that process of going through that program, it saved my life. And now I am a peer support at an inpatient facility, so I'm able to give back and to help people through their journey.”

The Chair's Executive Budget calls for full funding of the Future Generations Collaborative in FY 2025. And people spoke of the impact of the program,  which provides culturally specific services for Native American and Indigenous community members. 

Services provided by the Future Generations Collaborative’s early childhood program include “bi-weekly playgroups and a monthly caregiver support circle, weekly food boxes, diapers, transportation passes, as well as referral services and family check-ins and home visits. We offer traditional meals and culturally attuned activities, and often bring in local service providers,” said Elizabeth Watson, who has interned for the childhood program.

Community members Jamilah Trent (center) and Raven Harmon (right) were among the people sharing their thoughts and proposals on the Fiscal Year 2025 budget on May 8, 2024.

“Our land was taken, our people were taken and our traditions were taken. And I see the need for culturally specific early education programs to help rebuild what was taken,” said Raven Harmon. “We have what seems like endless health disparities and epidemics. Everybody has a relative who has suffered, and I've personally been to more funerals than I can count, including multiple children. We are fighting these statistics, and I am here asking for help to support this program because we are healing an intergenerational trauma, bettering ourselves and bettering our children for the next seven generations with programs like this.”

Oregon State University Extension

Many community members also testified in favor of reviving funding for the Oregon State University Extension Service roughly two decades after that investment stopped.

“We have been missing the support of Multnomah County for 21 years now. I'm here to ask for your help in funding our most basic needs that will allow us to continue meeting the proactive priorities like food safety and security, and mental and behavioral health,” said Nadine Menashe of the Oregon State University Extension Service. “Without your help, we will not be able to sustain our current programming that improves so many lives in Multnomah County.”

Presenters said the Extension Service has several programs in the community, including the Master Gardener program and youth extracurricular programs like 4-H. Tanya Kindrachuk, a former participant of 4-H programming funded by the Extension Service, said the program has a positive impact.

“4-H is where I discovered my love of public health. They supported me through the process of applying to colleges and scholarships, which was a tremendous help as I was a first-generation college student,” said Kindrachuk. “By investing in the Extension Service budget, we're investing in the future of our community, ensuring that young people have the support and resources they need to thrive.”

Mike Rutherford, a certified Master Gardener, said the Extension Service supports community-focused gardening programs.

“We have a demonstration garden where we donate thousands of pounds of food each year,” Rutherford said. “We have an education program where we have second- through fifth-graders coming in and learning about the carbon cycle. One of them was shocked that carrots grew in the ground, and they were kind of grossed out that they touched the dirt. So we're working to change that.”

Divesting from Amazon

Several speakers asked the County to divest from investments connected with the technology company Amazon. Presenters argued the company contributes to the climate change crisis and provides services to the Israeli army, which is engaged in a war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In addition to speakers in the boardroom, roughly 50 demonstrators gathered outside to express their support for Gaza’s residents and calling for the County to divest from organizations like Amazon.

“According to the County's most recent investment report, the County holds around $19.5 million in Amazon web securities,” said a speaker identified as Mar C, adding that Amazon “signed a $1.2 billion project to provide cloud technology to the Israeli military and weapons manufacturers. It's safe to say investment in Amazon is in direct opposition to the County's values of economic, racial and environmental justice.”

“I want to acknowledge that support for Palestine is one of the issues of the people right now, and that the suffering of all disenfranchised people globally are interconnected. That's why I'm here in support of continuing to fund our community programs and to consider what it would mean and what the first steps will be to divest from Amazon,” said Ricky King.

Homeless services programs

Homeless services also remained a focus of community testimony, with several people focusing on services for asylum seekers

The Chair’s budget proposes a 24% increase in homeless services, across all funding sources, directing a total of $285 million to housing placements, rent assistance and support services for people experiencing homelessness. The Chair’s budget also includes additional funding to support asylum seekers, as part of a coordinated response alongside the State of Oregon, the City of Portland and other private and philanthropic partners.

Community member Diane Meisenhelter spoke in support of several programs for asylum seekers, including the Newcomer Support Services pilot.

“Multnomah County has declared itself a sanctuary county, yet asylum seekers are struggling to access services due to lack of work permits, temporary housing and language barriers. They also struggle because of the profound instability that comes from sleeping outside due to multi-month family shelter wait lists and lack of culturally appropriate shelter,” Meisenhelter said. “This pilot will help address a critical need for families arriving each week seeking safety, and will provide safety for homeless children and families while we work toward building a homeless system that has the capacity and cultural skills to serve all unhoused and housing-insecure people.”

Representatives from Metropolitan Public Defender asked for continued funding of two programs that have previously received one-time-only funding. 

Sonja Good Stefani, director of Metropolitan Public Defender’s Community Law Program, said their Reset Program, which focuses on debt relief for low-income families received additional one-time-only funding as part of the Supportive Housing Services measure in FY 2024.

“Last year we filed waiver motions on almost 4,000 cases resulting in $2.2 million of debt waived for low-income families,” said Stefani. “These debts are preventing people from getting driver's licenses. They're preventing people from getting housing, and they are preventing people from getting their records expunged.”

Several other programs received supportive testimony, including but not limited to PDX Saints Love, an outreach and services organization that recently opened a day center in the Montavilla neighborhood and does not currently receive county funding; the Artist Mentorship Program, which provides youth experiencing homelessness with arts education programming; Family Promise of Metro East, which provides overnight shelter for families at several rotating locations.

Upcoming budget public hearings

The next two public hearings are Wednesday, May 15, and Wednesday, May 29. The Board of County Commissioners will vote on adopting the budget on June 6. Members of the public can sign up to testify or submit written comments through the budget feedback form

A calendar of the budget work sessions is available on the Budget Office website.