Over 50 people were in attendance on Wednesday when Oregon US Senator Jeff Merkley held an online Clatsop County Town Hall meeting.
To begin the meeting, Merkley praised the efforts of Clatsop Economic Development Resources success in distributing pandemic relief funds and personal protective equipment to hundreds of small businesses in the county, especially in the early days of the pandemic.
Merkley outlined the successes of the $1.9 trillion dollar American Rescue Plan, from relief checks, additional federal supplements to unemployment checks, Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loans, emergency rent relief plus enhancements to federal and local vaccination programs. Merkley stressed the bill was designed to help communities from the bottom up.
“We also had state and local payments in it, and the local payments bypassed the state government so they could get to the individual cities and counties. Clatsop County’s share was about $7.8 million, Astoria $2 million, Seaside $1.5 million, Warrenton $1.1 million, Cannon Beach $360 thousand, Gearhart $330 thousand. The reason to have it done in that fashion is that local officials know what is most needed in the community”.
Merkley said a current focus is on The American Jobs Plan. The $2.3 trillion dollar proposal would address roads, bridges and jetties, but also rural broadband, water and wastewater projects. As head of the Interior Spending Committee, Merkley said he is asking for forests to be treated as infrastructure, in an effort to alter management practices to reduce wildfire danger.
Several participants thanked Senator Merkley for his help in preserving housing at Tongue Point Jobs Center. Katrina Gasser, an instructor at Tongue Point, was first to speak.
“There’s fifteen families here who are breathing significant sighs of relief, and also the gratitude that this might roll over to other Job Corps centers”.
When Laurie Caplan of Astoria asked about the likelihood of swaying other Senators to support The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and a revamp of the filibuster process, Merkley explained his Senate Bill number 1: “For the People Act”, addresses the issues of dark money in campaign donations, gerrymandering and protecting the ballot box. He said he is working to alter the requirement of a super majority to override obstructive filibusters.
“The story is a cliff-hanger right now because we’re a fifty-fifty Senate. I have 49 votes, more or less, in support of S-1, but I don’t have 50. I need 60 out of 100, which gives Mitch McConnell the veto unless we change the filibuster, so I’m working with my colleagues to try to get 50 votes to change the filibuster. There too, we’re short. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to succeed. I am dedicated to tenaciously working it every day”.
Former Clatsop County Commissioner Kathleen Sullivan asked about breaching the Snake River dams. Merkley said the issue is multi-factored by hydro power generation, irrigation, transportation needs and local resident’s concerns. Merkley said more traction is being gained on removing four Klamath River dams.
“Those dams – the owners want the dams to come out because they can’t afford fish passage, the dams don’t provide very much power, they don’t provide irrigation water, They just mess up the stream in terms of the fish traveling up and down. I think pieces of those dams will start coming out next year”.
Merkley concluded the hour long Town Hall by acknowledging challenging issues and the necessity of listening to competing views in order to tackle them.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, and having an engaged citizenry like you all have been today is critical to us going forward, and in the President’s phrase: “build back better”, to build a better world, so that’s the enterprise. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts and feelings and I look forward to see you all down the road and seeing you in person next year in Clatsop County.”