Message from Director Fariborz Pakseresht
August 14, 2020
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been carefully monitoring the economic impacts on the state's budget. We took steps early to protect our Department budget to minimize the negative impacts of the recession on our workforce and the people we serve. We are all in this together and we want to keep you updated on budget decisions that affect our ability to tend to the health, safety and well-being of Oregonians who are depending on us during the pandemic.
On Monday, Governor Kate Brown convened a special session of the Legislature to fill a $1.2 billion state revenue shortfall resulting from the sharp economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Legislature also used the opportunity to appropriate funding for emerging needs related to the pandemic. Much of the new funding came from federal COVID-19 relief money and an increase in federal Medicaid matching dollars provided to states during the pandemic.
Oregon is required to balance its state budget and the decisions legislators made on Monday to close the budget gap were difficult ones. After all the complicated puts and takes the Legislature made in our Department budget, we ended up with a mix of budget actions – both cuts and investments – spanning the entire agency. See a summary of the impacts, by program.
Although any reductions are hard to take, the Legislature's actions reflect its understanding of our critical role in the state's pandemic response and recovery:
- No layoffs were included in this week's budget balancing, although some unfilled positions were cut and there will be delays in hiring for some positions to create vacancy savings.
- The Legislature protected much of its prior investment in our health and safety initiatives, targeting projects and services that are new and in the early stages of development for reductions or elimination to minimize negative impacts.
- Investments primarily support our pandemic response, sustaining our provider networks and the emergency supports we offer Oregonians hit the hardest by the pandemic.
This week's special Legislative session balanced Oregon's budget for the current biennium, but fiscal uncertainties remain. We are now preparing for the next budget cycle and are expecting more shortfalls during the 2021-23 biennium. We will continue to be proactive and use the tools in our control that help us reduce the need for budget cuts. We will keep reserving savings, limiting staff hiring, and prohibiting non-essential purchases and travel, among other steps.
At the same time, we must look ahead to determine how we will recover and rebuild when the pandemic subsides and align our resources to those efforts. We are assessing our Department's organizational needs in the current environment to plan our path forward, prioritizing equity, health, safety and well-being.
The pandemic has been unsettling for all of us. COVID-19 continues to affect everyone at home, at work and in our communities. Amid this crisis, our workforce has demonstrated great resiliency. You have been innovative, consistent and caring in meeting the needs of Oregonians. You have my deepest appreciation for tending to the health, safety and well-being of the people we serve. We have learned so much during this experience and I am confident we will weather the challenges ahead together and emerge from the pandemic a better organization.