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Emergency dollars will aid Southern Oregon

Southern Oregon should see a good chunk of emergency money set aside by the Legislature Monday to pay for wildfire recovery and rent relief.

“We will get our share, for sure,” said Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland.

A large portion of wildfire recovery and preparedness dollars should come directly to Southern Oregon, which was devastated by last summer’s fires.

Landlords and tenants will get a rent relief extension to June 30. Existing rent relief was set to expire at the end of the year.

In total the Legislature during a special session approved $800 million for emergency relief related to wildfires and fallout from COVID-19.

The largest share of the money, $400 million, will go directly to COVID-19 costs such as contact tracing and vaccine distribution. Lawmakers put $100 million aside for any unseen needs, and $200 million will be spent assisting landlords and tenants with an eviction moratorium. Another $100 million was set aside for wildfire recovery.

To help restaurants deal with the downturn in business, the Legislature approved allowing restaurants to sell cocktails to go, though it will likely take effect after the new year when Gov. Kate Brown signs off and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission weighs in on the regulatory language.

House Bill 4401 creates a $150 million fund to help landlords recoup losses from tenants who are unable to pay the rent because of the pandemic. But the fund would provide only 80% of the rent money, leaving landlords to forgo 20%. Another $50 million in the bill provides a mechanism for tenants to get money to pay for their rent.

Under the bill a tenant who has not paid rent, even back to April, must sign an affidavit explaining why they have not paid rent in order to qualify for the program.

“I’m not really crazy about the structure of this,” Marsh said. “The affidavit is very complicated and overwhelming for a lot of tenants.”

She said the affidavit came about as an effort to compromise to get the bill passed.

An affidavit form is also in the works, Marsh said.

Tenants can apply for assistance if they have lost income due to a variety of reasons including medical expenses, loss of wages, increased child care responsibilities or caring for a sick person. The lost income can also include increased costs of child care or other circumstances that have reduced income or increased expenses.

Hours after the Legislature approved the rent relief, a lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court Monday night on behalf of landlords attempting to block the eviction moratorium.

Marsh anticipates the Jackson County Housing Authority will be involved in many aspects of the redevelopment work needed to deal with the aftermath of the Almeda fire, which ravaged Talent and Phoenix.

The Legislature voted to protect schools from lawsuits related to COVID-19.

While the Legislature debated bills, a group of protesters outside the Capitol in Salem attacked members of the media and tried to break into the building.

Marsh, who is on the third floor of the Capitol, said she could see the commotion but felt relatively safe.

“I never felt personally frightened,” she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.

{ }Pro-Trump and anti-mask demonstrators hold a rally outside the Oregon State Capitol on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, as legislators meet for an emergency session. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)