Like all of us, I have been extremely troubled over the last several weeks to watch as our hardworking federal employees, especially Coast Guard members, have been used as pawns in a fight going on thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country, and hundreds of families up and down our coastline, have been victims in the longest U.S. government shutdown in history.
In the midst of a terrible situation, the community came together in support of our friends and neighbors. From the Be the Light pop-up food pantry in Astoria, to the Rockaway Kiwanis in Tillamook County, and the many other organizations and individuals who have stepped up to help, it’s clear that the federal government should take a lesson from our communities about what it means to be compassionate, work as a team, and the power of individuals to overcome barriers larger than themselves to accomplish good.
After hearing the heartbreaking story of an Astoria-area Coast Guard wife and her family’s struggles to support themselves with savings, it occurred to me that, as a state representative, I was in a position to do right by our public servants. And while news of this relief may make those efforts feel inconsequential in light of the government’s reopening, at least temporarily, I wanted to make sure that our communities had assurances that this burden will never happen again.
As someone who used to work for a government agency that dealt with unemployment insurance, I theorized that there must be some way, in statute, that the state of Oregon could change its laws to allow for exceptions to its traditional program requirements for federal employees. Though requirements vary from state to state, I knew the basics of the program and what functions we’d have to look at to accomplish a specific outcome.
After spending time working with Senate President Peter Courtney, Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Employment Department, I am excited that we have figured out a way forward. The bill (Senate Bill 722) that has been developed, of which I am co-chief sponsor, will change the nature of the Oregon unemployment compensation program to allow for that very exception to exist. Our Coast Guard members and other Homeland Security employees, who are required to work under government shutdowns, will similarly be eligible for benefits through a mirror program created specifically for this scenario and funded by the state. I hope this legislation moves quickly through the Legislature so we can be prepared should the government close again in the middle of February.
Our families need to be supported, and it is our duty to make that happen. I couldn’t be prouder to represent communities that have come together to support others during such a difficult time. Working on this bill as my first piece of major legislation to help my community and all Oregonians, in tandem with many others, is precisely why I ran in the first place. Thank you for the opportunity to let me serve you.
Tiffiny Mitchell represents House District 32 in the Oregon Legislature.