The House Democrats on Tuesday reintroduced a bill that would send one-time payments of $ 600 to bank accounts of more than a quarter of a million Oregonians.
It marks the revival of a proposal that Democrats in control of the legislature flew in the past: to provide stimulus checks to key workers who remained at work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This repetition of the plan will focus efforts on about 260,000 people who applied for income tax deductions – a break for low- and middle-income families – on their applications by 2020.
Rep. Andrea Valderrama, D-East Portland, is one of the main sponsors of bill and will be tasked with managing it through the legislative process. It will receive its first public hearing on Thursday 17 February at 13.30
Valderrama said supporters had used an earlier version of the plan for a few important reasons.
First, the original bill created a process for low-income workers to apply for payments. Valderrama said lawmakers were worried about the prospect of finding a state agency or third-party vendor that could handle that amount of work in a timely manner.
The process would be so cumbersome that most workers who need these payments will not see them until 2023 or later.
Secondly, the new bill does not discriminate between the types of workers who would be entitled to these payments. The original plan would have only qualified certain types of workers, a factor that legislators and supporters realized could exclude many who still need these payments, and it has been a daunting task to delineate who was eligible.
Under the new proposal, as long as they applied for income tax deduction on their 2020 state application, taxpayers should receive a check.
Valderrama also said that Oregon residents who do not have a Social Security number but who file taxes using an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) will also be eligible for these payments. It includes people with different types of residence documentation status.
According to Oregon Department of Revenue data, counties with the highest percentage of residents claiming state income tax deductions include Malheur (22.7%), Klamath (19%) and Jefferson (18.9%) counties. In general, the southern counties of the state represent the highest percentage of those who claim the tax deduction.
The bill says that these payments would not be taxable or eligible for outlays, which means that anyone who needs this cash will get the full payment no matter what.
“We know working families and low-wage families need this funding now,” Valderrama said. “We know the cost of living is sky-high, the revenue forecast said (last week). Workers must be able to afford the rising costs of groceries, prescriptions, childcare and all that stuff.”
Valderrama says the bill has the support of almost all of the state’s major unions, including the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization (AFL-CIO), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW ), Oregon Education Association, Oregon School Employees Association and Service Employees International Union (SEIU). It also has support from the Oregon Food Bank.
“I’m very excited about the energy in terms of support,” Valderrama said. “I remain very optimistic about the viability and success of seeing this through.”
Although union leaders support the new proposal, they do not see it as a one-to-one replacement with what many of them hoped to see take place this year.
In 2021, Democrats originally proposed economic impact payments for key workers as high as $ 2,000 per year. household. Talks around dollar amounts this year began around the $ 1,000 mark.
Valderrama said the downside of payments at this level is that they would be eligible for federal taxation.
Michael Selvaggio, a lobbyist for UFCW Local 555, said the union was happy to support the new bill, but he does not consider this effort to replace a bill aimed at substantial labor payments.
“We have been promised essential wages to workers two sessions in a row, and it has been unequivocally excluded from consideration each time,” Selvaggio said.
Selvaggio said the unions did not get an explanation as to why the original bill died, except that Oregon’s state agencies do not appear to have the capacity to handle the task.
“Which is kind of bizarre from my perspective,” he said.
Joe Baessler, a political coordinator for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 75, said the original proposal had too many unanswered questions such as: Who qualified? How many hours do you have to work? What if someone worked more than one job? What about farm workers? What kind of job is considered high risk?
“No agency really has the ability to put together a program from scratch,” Baessler said.
Early estimates show that the plan will cost the state about $ 180 million.
OPB reporter Dirk VanderHart contributed to this report.