October 15, 2021
The Board of County Commissioners approved a series of budget modifications Thursday, Oct. 14, appropriating $59.7 million in county, state and federal funds to its Fiscal Year 2022 budget. The adjustment will make additions, reductions and other programmatic changes to the Health Department, Department of County Human Services, Sheriff’s Office, Joint Office of Homeless Services and the Library.

By and large, the budget modifications dramatically improve the County’s ability to serve residents, promote public health, and respond to an ongoing housing and homelessness crisis made more urgent by the COVID-19 pandemic. The supplemental budget increases funding to the Joint Office of Homeless Services by almost $15 million, the Department of County Human Services by nearly $30 million and the Health Department by $3.4 million. 

“This,’’ said Chair Deborah Kafoury, “is all very good news.’’

The County adopted its Fiscal Year 2022 budget in June based on state and federal funding, including funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Weeks later, the Oregon Legislature approved its own 2021-23 biennial budget that resulted in a significant funding increase for the County, requiring it to adopt a supplemental budget. 

Under Oregon law, a supplemental budget allows the County to make changes to its adopted budget in response to financial influences not anticipated at the time of adoption. Based on the significant changes to County services and operations, the County issued a public notice and hearing. 

“The public notice and public hearing are required in this case because the appropriations in both the federal/state program fund and the COVID-19 response fund are increasing by more than 10 percent,” said County Budget Director Christian Elkin at the Thursday board meeting. “We have met all of the requirements for the supplemental budget.” 

Health Department expands COVID-19 response, mental health treatment for families, treatment services

Public Health and Behavioral Health Divisions are the two Health Department divisions that will see budget increases from the new federal and state investments. 

Public Health will receive an additional $2.42 million in federal funds to extend COVID-19 vaccination efforts, rebuild the child vaccination program, support new families, expand harm reduction services and increase the reach of vector control. The Division will also receive an additional $4.6 million in state and federal funds to prevent or mitigate communicable diseases, the health impacts of climate change and other environmental health threats.

After years of budget cuts to the Vaccine for Children Program, the County will invest $372,000 to help schools and childcare facilities comply with state school immunization rules.

“This obviously contributes to safe learning environments and it creates a safety net,” said Public Health Director Jessica Guernsey. “I’m thrilled to be able to rebuild some of that work.” 

“I want to say how good it feels — as someone who has been around for a lot of those budget cuts — it feels really good to be in a position to add back to those crucial programs,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said. 

The Racial and Ethnic Approach to Community Health, or REACH, program will receive an additional $630,000 to increase vaccine outreach by standing up clinics offering the flu and COVID-19 vaccines through the winter. Their expanded strategies will include employing social and digital media campaigns, extending the Ask a Black Doctor podcast, and virtual education forums.

The County's Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program will receive an additional $156,000, allowing that program to serve 59 more families. During the pandemic, WIC actually saw demand for its services rise even as the staff pivoted entirely to offering telehealth and other virtual services.

 “It was great to hear how those additional dollars are going to help us invest in programs that we know are impactful in our community,” Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson said.

The Behavioral Health Division will receive an extra $1 million in state funding to increase addiction and mental health treatment for children and families, and to support people with mental illness who are involved in the criminal justice system.

Of those funds, $690,000 will go to adjusting reimbursement rates for substance use disorder providers, who have traditionally been paid far less than mental health providers. An additional $130,000 will go to support residents of a five-bed facility to be run by New Narrative, a program that seeks to provide stability for Aid and Assist clients who are unable to participate in their defense. And $37,500 will go to supporting the County’s School-based Mental Health program in the Reynolds School District. 

Further state investments in Behavioral Health are expected in the coming year to support residential housing, workforce development, mobile crisis response and peer respite. 

“It is going to be transformative, potentially,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said. “When I see the components laid out, it does feel as if we’re getting closer to filling some of the gaps in the system. And that’s exciting to see.”

Human Services budget increase to improve services for older adults, people with disabilities, veterans, low-income households 

The Department of County Human Services will receive an additional $29.66 million toward serving older adults, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, veterans, and low-income households. The increase will provide funding to better investigate cases of abuse and neglect, decrease case loads of clients living in residential settings, distribute energy assistance, weatherize homes and more. 

An $11.4 million bump for the Aging, Disability and Veterans’ Services Division budget will fund 63.65 new full-time equivalent (FTE) positions across its programs. In the Adult Care Home Licensing Program, the increase will bring down provider licensing caseloads from 65 to 45 homes per licenser. The Adult Protective Services program, which follows up on allegations of abuse and neglect among vulnerable adults, will also see a $2.2 million increase in Medicaid funding, allowing it to reduce investigations by six per worker. 

“Generally speaking, those positions we are trying to fund are mostly case management,” said Mohammad Bader, who directs the Department of County Human Services. “We are trying to balance the workload. We are fortunate that the State gave us that infusion of funds to mitigate the increase in workload.”

Currently, 56 percent of case workers in the Long Term Services and Supports Program have a caseload that exceeds the standard. Thanks to a $3.96 million increase, only one percent of case workers will exceed the caseload standard. The program will also invest in culturally specific outreach workers for language-specific positions, along with other culturally specific positions to better serve Black communities. 

“The division is focused on providing better consumer services, ensuring that staff have the time to really spend with consumers and addressing their unmet needs and providing resources,” said Lee Girard, the interim deputy director for DCHS.

Under the adopted budget, the Youth and Family Services Division was poised to serve 118,000 meals to older adults. A budget increase of $1.5 million will fund 104,000 additional meals to Black, Indigenous and People of Color, increasing the total meals that will be served in Fiscal Year 2022 to 202,427.

In a typical year, the County’s Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Division serves more than 6,400 people who live with autism, cerebral palsy or an intellectual disability diagnosed prior to the age of 22. 

Due to a forecasted increased workload and client growth across Oregon, the State increased the base funding for IDD services by $15.49 million for the 2021-23 biennium. That translates to a $6.6 million increase to Multnomah County IDD’s $29.66 million budget​​, which will allow the division to reduce caseloads and better meet the health and safety needs of its clients.

“The increase will allow us to hire staff across the division, resulting in 34 additional permanent FTE which will help us reach our goals of ensuring health and safety and providers for compliance with state and federal regulations around client safety and quality of life,” said Alexis Alberti, who directs IDD.

Currently, IDD abuse investigators average 36 open cases. Additional staff that will be hired under the new budget will reduce those caseloads by 16 per worker. Caseloads will also be reduced from 55 to an average of 50 clients among service coordinators, and from 75 to an average of 55 among intake and eligibility workers. 

“It is so gratifying to see that for once we’re decreasing people’s caseloads, and those front line workers are doing such incredible work,” Commissioner Meieran said.

The Youth and Family Services (YFS) Division manages more than 40 programs and initiatives focusing on two major service areas: education and economic stability for families. Its $120 million adopted budget funds a wide range of services including weatherization, access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, domestic violence emergency responses, housing stability resources, after-school programming and more.

The YFS Division will receive an additional $11.72 million in federal funds from the Consolidated Appropriations Act and American Rescue Plan Act. The increase will be applied toward providing energy assistance, weatherizing homes for low-income households, funding a new, time-limited low-income water assistance program, and developing an equitable economic recovery plan for East Multnomah County.

“Our teams use the equity and empowerment lens and work with the DCHS Inclusion Manager as they develop their budgets for this new funding,” said Peggy Samolinski, who directs YFS. “They considered the needs of communities and clients and looked to data and program trends.”

Between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, the Energy Assistance Program helped 19,058 households pay their energy bills. During that same timeframe, the County’s Weatherization Program served 176 households, decreasing their utility bills by ensuring their homes were better insulated, more energy efficient, safer, and more comfortable.  

The programs will receive a combined $9 million in additional funding. For the Energy Assistance Program, that translates to an additional 11,000 households receiving assistance for paying large or overdue utility bills. Approximately 100 more low-income households will have their older, energy inefficient homes upgraded through the Weatherization Program.

At the same time, a $2.8 million investment in the new Low-Income Water Program will provide financial aid to pay for private and public water utilities. The program will prioritize clients that have had their water disconnected, are at risk of being disconnected or are in arrears. As the first program of its kind in the County’s portfolio, the program will be administered through contracted service providers who also deliver low-income energy assistance.

“I really appreciate the big investment we’re seeing in DCHS,” Commissioner Vega Pederson said. “I think those dollars are going to make a big difference in how we’re able to serve those clients, and the care that we’re going to have for folks through our services that are really getting those caseloads in the recommended and optimal sizes.”

Rebalanced funds in public safety to strengthen community, push forth reform and inclusively lead with race. 

The budget rebalance means an influx of $2.5 million for Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice (DCJ). It allows for investments in the community, in staff and toward programs that will push forth system reform, and strengthen County-wide goals of inclusively leading with race. 

Erika Preuitt, the Department of Community Justice director, said that $2.2 million in rebalanced funds will go to the County’s Adult Services Division funding largely  from the State’s Community Corrections Fund, also known as Senate Bill 1145 funding.

“The State really understood the costs and investments that community corrections incurs to provide supervision, services and sanctions,” said Preuitt.  

The allotment helps restore 11 positions that were eliminated over the last two years — including parole and probation officers and corrections technicians who work with people of color involved in the justice system. 

It increases alcohol and drug outpatient and residential services for people involved in the justice system not covered by the Oregon Health Plan. And it will provide culturally specific mentors to serve communities of color, by adding case management services and treatment readiness, said Preuitt.  

Last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread calls for racial justice and public safety reform, Multnomah County permanently eliminated supervision fees — which too often result in more financial hardship and collateral consequences for people on parole and probation. The State Legislature voted to eliminate supervision fees statewide (SB 620) and provided funds to backfill lost revenue due to the elimination.

“We are excited and energized and hopeful about the investments the Legislature has approved in the last session,” said Preuitt. “They help build our capacity to serve the youth and adults on our caseloads — their families, victims and survivors.”  

More than $360,000 will also go to the County’s Juvenile Services Division for:

  • A specialist who will implement the Division’s Transforming Juvenile Probation Initiative; 
  • A records technician to support changes in automatic expunction of juvenile records;
  • Enhancement of an outdoor recreation area in juvenile detention and;
  • Funding for direct help for justice-involved youth and families. 

Joint Office of Homeless Services receives $15 million for ongoing COVID-19 response, acquisition of new shelter

In response to a housing and homelessness crisis made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Joint Office of Homeless Services’ FY 2022 COVID-19 budget invested nearly $30 million in providing indoor and outdoor physical distancing shelters, street outreach, and provider support. 

Through a massive community effort, the JOHS and its partners in FY 2021 provided voluntary medical isolation shelter for 1,830 people; physical distancing congregate shelter for 960; high risk motel shelter for 540; and rent assistance for 8,500 households. 

The JOHS, nonprofits, and volunteers have also donated a staggering amount of survival gear through the COVID-19 supply center. That includes tens of thousands of blankets, tarps, tents, and sleeping bags; hygiene supplies; hoodies, sweatpants, hand warmers, gloves, and socks; and refillable drink bottles.

“Our work in investing the COVID-19 response funds is focused on a range of shelter interventions, outreach interventions as well as household assistance,” said Marc Jolin, who directs the Joint Office of Homeless Services.

With nearly $15 million in additional funding, the JOHS aims to expand its COVID-19 response, acquire new shelter, and further investments in supportive housing services, placement and retention. 

Of the budget rebalance, $5.1 million in City funding will go towards operating motel shelters. That matches a County investment and funds ongoing administration through the remainder of the fiscal year.  

Through rebalancing, the JOHS will also use $1 million to continue operating a 90-person? shelter at a former Greyhound station in Old Town. An increase of $3.4 million will help fund the acquisition of a 42-room motel in Gresham. And $5 million will go towards renovating a newly-acquired Arbor Lodge shelter on North Lombard. 

“I wanted to call out the $5 million for the Arbor Lodge housing and thank (Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek) in particular, who helped to get that funding to us,” said Commissioner Susheela Jayapal. 

The remainder of the budget rebalance will help offset reductions in State allocations and go towards continued investments in housing services for youth, veterans, and people living with AIDS. 

“As a community, we all have been, frankly, traumatized by COVID-19,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. “And while our needs just keep escalating, it’s nice to get a little bit of a break with some extra funding.”