Posts tagged as Oregon Legislature

In Legislature’s Waning Days, a Final Push for Pro-Kid Bills

Several important – and truly historic – victories for Oregon’s kids have occurred during the 2015 Oregon legislative session when it comes to children’s education, economic stability, health, and safety. Most notably, lawmakers have approved paid sick days, expanded opportunity and independence for foster youth, increased access to free school lunches, and prevented domestic abusers from possessing firearms.

But our work on behalf of Oregon’s kids is not done.

There are still key areas where lawmakers can make a big difference in children’s lives yet this session–specifically, in their budget negotiations. Last week was the first public hearing for the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) budget and this week lawmakers will discuss the early education budget.

Both budgets contain requests for additional funding for crucial children’s programs, yet there is immense budget pressure. Critical programs like Employment Related Day Care (ERDC), Home Visiting Programs, Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), and mixed delivery pre-school all seek increased investment for the next two years.

As we’ve highlighted previously, programs like Employment Related Day Care (ERDC) and Home Visiting are designed to help low-income families access affordable child care and to receive the evidence-based parental training that we know protects kids.

These programs are proven to reduce demands on future state budgets and increase each child’s opportunity to become healthier and more economically secure.  And as the 2015 Oregon Legislature hurtles towards a close, the need to improve the future for Oregon’s children continues.

Please tell your lawmaker that their work is not yet done and that you support additional investments in affordable day care, home visiting, TANF, and mixed-delivery pre-school for Oregon’s most vulnerable children.

Toys and Toxins

You look at labels and find the milk without added growth hormones.  ​You make sure that you have the right child safety seats or harnesses in your car.  You make your kids wear bike helmets.

But what about the toys they play with every day?

We now know with certainty that thousands of children’s products are made with chemicals that are toxic to the brain, reproductive system or development in children. And yet, parents have no way of knowing which toys and other products contain harmful carcinogens or other chemicals of concern, and neither do doctors, public health officials—or even the retailers that sell the products.

Oregon has a chance to change that with the Toxic Free Kids Act (SB 478).   The bill would:

  • Establish priorities for chemicals that we know are hazardous to children.
  • Require manufacturers to disclose use of chemicals in products made for children.
  • Require manufacturers to eventually replace those chemicals with safer alternatives.

But unless legislators act right now, we miss our chance to make a real difference in the life-long health of Oregon’s children. The bill has the backing of Oregon’s health community, educators and parents. It has bipartisan support. Let’s make 2015 the year we start to give children the protection they deserve.

Tell your legislator today: don’t delay. Pass the Toxic Free Kids Act (SB 478).

Paid Sick Leave in Oregon: No Rest for the Weary – Yet

Update: Paid sick days passed the Oregon House on June 12 and is headed to the Governor’s desk for final approval!

You glance at the thermometer and it confirms your suspicion: your child has a fever.

If you’re a worker in Oregon who lacks paid sick time, your choice boils down to a rock and a hard place: Do you send your sick child to school or daycare, or miss a day of work and lose out on a much-needed paycheck – or worse – risk being fired.

Today in Oregon, nearly half of all workers in the private sector don’t have access to paid sick time. It’s even worse for low-wage workers, where 71% lack access to sick time. This is an especially large issue in Oregon, where 26% of mothers with young children work in low-wage jobs — the second-highest rate in the nation.

Luckily, on Wednesday, June 10, the Oregon Senate approved a bill that would allow employees working at companies with 10 or more workers to earn up to 5 paid sick days per year. The leave can be used for themselves or to care for a family member – like a child – who needs medical care. Senate Bill 454 would make Oregon the fourth state to allow nearly all employees to earn paid sick time, but only if the Oregon House approves the measure – and time is running out.

If the Oregon House follows the Senate’s lead and passes the bill, the decision to stay home with your sick child should soon be a little easier. And that should give parents more time to focus on other important issues like: Does your child really have a fever? Or did they just hold the thermometer over a light bulb?

Tax credits and tough choices

It’s a familiar scene for many families across Oregon: each month you sit down at the kitchen table to pay your bills. Then, you carefully analyze your family’s budget to determine how much money is coming in and how much is leaving. You decide where to put your hard-earned resources based on what your family needs most. When you go shopping, you consider each item carefully because in this economy, every purchase matters. Do you buy the extra items to the detriment of other things or do you make sure to leave enough for this month’s daycare bill?

The Oregon Legislature faces a similar choice in the coming weeks as it determines which tax credits to keep and which ones to dump.

Included in that choice is whether or not to keep reimbursing counties for the property tax breaks they give away – to one county in particular. In 2014 alone, the state of Oregon reimbursed Washington County to the tune of $37.8 million. That money came out of the state’s general fund, which is also used to fund services for kids, seniors, and people with developmental disabilities. The full program will cost the state of Oregon $95 million dollars over the next two years, unless lawmakers act.

At the same time, lawmakers are deciding whether or not to improve several family-friendly tax credits that impact thousands of Oregonians. Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer has proposed the renewal and expansion of two tax credits, which help families with costs like childcare. Her plan would combine the two credits into one new and improved tax credit that would allow low-income families to get back even more of the taxes they pay to the state and let them put that money toward the things their families need most.

There’s also another proposal to expand the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit program specifically for families with young children. Expanding EITC would mean hundreds of dollars more per year for struggling families.

With limited funds up for grabs, the legislature must choose where to spend the general fund dollars: on tax credits that help families pay for vital services like child care or for one county’s corporate tax breaks.  If this were your family, which would you choose?

Home visiting programs empower parents and invest in our future

As a parent, the experience of holding your child in your arms for the first time is difficult to put into words. The young life you cradle seems so fragile and yet, your bond so strong. So many thoughts and feelings swirl through your head and your heart, and perhaps even a moment of panic sets in as you think to yourself: I’m not ready for this.

Parenting doesn’t always come naturally and it certainly doesn’t come with an instruction manual. For some, parenting can be confusing and overwhelming. For others, they may lack the financial resources, family stability, or skills to build positive, nurturing relationships with their young children.

Those circumstances can sometime lead to the neglect and abuse of a child. Preventing abuse before it happens is critical. Some of the most important brain development happens in the first year of life, when abuse rates are at their highest. And Oregon’s abuse rate is only 2% lower than it was in 2003, despite a 25% reduction nationwide over the same period.

Home visiting programs can make a big difference. That’s why advocates are asking Oregon lawmakers to invest an additional $10 million in Healthy Families Oregon, Oregon’s statewide family support and coaching program. Currently only 15% of low-income children are served by the program. An additional investment would allow the home visiting professionals to train and support more parents and serve many more children.

“Voluntary home visiting programs such as Healthy Families Oregon reduce child abuse and neglect, prepare kids for school, and increase the positive connections between parent and young child,” says Martha Brooks, the Oregon State Director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids and ReadyNation.

Home visiting programs support families with children from birth to age three by helping them access resources, set goals, and develop skills they need to raise children who are on track developmentally and emotionally. Families who participate are visited regularly by trained home visitors who bring tools and activities, track progress, provide support and practice skills with families.

“The programs help increase family self-sufficiency, lower health care costs and prevent child abuse and neglect. They also lead to reduction in crime and domestic violence,” says Marina Merrill, Senior Research and Policy Advisor at Children’s Institute. In fact, home visiting has been shown to save at least $2 in future spending for every $1 invested in the programs.

“Decades of research on home visiting programs show that these programs work,” adds Merrill. “The services focus on the critical first few years of a child’s life.”

That may not be an instruction manual for struggling parents, but it’s a pretty good start.

Oregon Foster Youth Connection bills pass the Oregon House by wide margins

Two bills aiming to increase independence and opportunity for Oregon’s foster youth passed the Oregon House of Representatives today in overwhelming fashion.

Members of Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC) created House Bill 2889, which will allow the creation of savings accounts for Oregon foster youth. The accounts would provide an additional tool for foster youth to achieve financial independence by saving their own money for future educational opportunities and other vital living expenses.

OFYC members also created House Bill 2890, which will provide opportunities for youth in foster care to participate in at least one extracurricular activity. Extracurricular activities provide critical, formative experiences which help youth develop physically, intellectually, socially and emotionally.

“Like all of our legislative proposals, these ideas came directly from current and former foster youth,” says Lisa McMahon, OFYC Program Director. Both bills were featured in the 2015 Children’s Agenda.

Lawmakers applauded members of Oregon Foster Youth Connection for their efforts to pass the legislation, including sharing their personal testimony. “It takes guts to tell those stories,” said State Representative Carla Piluso, who carried HB 2889 on the floor of the House of Representatives.

The bills were also supported by groups like NAYA Family Center, New Avenues for Youth, and Oregon CASA Network. HB 2889 passed by a bipartisan vote of 57-2, while HB 2890 passed unanimously on a 59-0 vote. The bills now head to the Oregon Senate.

Legislature’s K-12 funding bill a step in the right direction for Oregon schools

If you have a child in Oregon’s public K-12 system, it’s not news that the last few years have been challenging for our schools. Facing the worst national economic crisis since the Great Depression, many schools were forced to respond by laying off teachers and staff, increasing class sizes, shortening school days, and cutting extracurricular activities.

In the face of these challenges, we witnessed teachers, administrators, support staff, school boards, and advocates work incredibly hard to minimize the impact on our kids. Their daily commitment kept us on the right path as the economy rebounded and state revenue improved.

Now, they have a little more help.

On Tuesday, March 31 the Oregon House approved House Bill 5017, which provides $7.255 billion in state funding for K-12 education in Oregon for the 2015-17 biennium. (For an in-depth data analysis of school funding, make sure to check out the blog post “How much is $7 billion?” on the CFFO Kids Count Center.)

Included in the funding are important investments in pro-kid programs like expansion of the free lunch program and, for the first time in Oregon’s history, funding for all day kindergarten. Passage of the funding package this early in the legislative session sets a minimum baseline of funding so that administrators and school boards know how much money they have to work with as they budget for the next school year.

The total amount of K-12 funding is $600 million more than the previous 2013-2015 K-12 education budget, however, the increase still doesn’t keep up with demand. The average funding per student is considerably lower than it was 25 years ago — meaning that schools have to do more with less.

So it’s a step in the right direction. But is it enough?

Many education advocates, including Children First for Oregon, hope that additional funding will become available after the May revenue forecast. Beyond that, it’s crucial that lawmakers look for new revenue sources so that Oregon’s kids aren’t pitted against other important vital programs for seniors, children, the developmentally disabled, higher education, and public safety.

A second chance at a paycheck

Update: Ban the Box legislation, HB 3025, passed the Oregon Senate on June 11 and the Oregon House on June 16. It now heads to Governor Brown’s desk for final signature!

Many Oregon parents define themselves by the myriad of roles they play in their children’s lives: caretakers, educators, medics, transportation specialists, counselors, and so many more…

But when some Oregon parents try to provide for their children by applying for a job, they are defined only by a box they are required to check on a job application: convicted criminal. It is an incredibly dehumanizing experience and one that is often encountered by some mothers and fathers in Oregon.Time to Ban the Box

The “box” is a spot on many employment and housing applications in Oregon that asks whether the applicant has been convicted of a crime or been incarcerated. This hurdle makes it difficult to find work and housing even as the economy is improving. Research affirms that a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a job callback by nearly 50%.

“Families are put at greater risk of poverty when parents who have records are unable to find work because of institutional barriers,” says Andrea Paluso, the Executive Director of Family Forward Oregon. “Here in Oregon, more than 75 percent of Oregon’s female prisoners are mothers and, as of 2012, there were 7,520 parents in prison in our state.”

And it hits some families harder than others. Nearly 11% of those under Department of Corrections supervision in Oregon are African American, while the state as whole is only 2%, creating greater barriers to employment and housing stability for this population and their families.

This session, Oregon lawmakers have a chance to reduce barriers and create an opportunity for job applicants. On Wednesday, March 25th the Oregon House Business and Labor Committee will hear testimony on House Bill 3025, Ban the Box legislation.

HB 3025 gives Oregonians who’ve served their time a second chance at earning a paycheck. The bill makes it illegal for employers to use job application forms to ask about criminal history or disqualify an applicant from employment because of a prior conviction unless the conviction is job-related. The legislation is incredibly important to the economic stability of Oregon’s children and families and is featured in the 2015 Children’s Agenda.

If you agree it is time to “ban the box” and un-stack the deck so everyone has an opportunity to succeed, join advocates in Salem on Wednesday, March 25th at 8 a.m. for the hearing on House Bill 3025. Click here to RSVP!

New report shows Oregon children face significant barriers to success, but solutions exist

Today, our friends at Children First for Oregon announced the release our 2015 Progress Report, an annual data-driven analysis on the well-being of kids in Oregon. You can view the full report here and you can explore the data here.

The report shows that Oregon’s children continue to face significant barriers to success. Despite slight improvements in some areas, progress for kids is largely stalled.

But Oregon has a long history of a pioneer spirit – both in people and public policies. We are trail blazers. And now is the time to be pioneers again. To unite on behalf of kids and make meaningful long-term change. That’s why the report includes concrete policy solutions currently under consideration, like a higher minimum wage, more early childhood education, and expansion of the home visiting program. 

These solutions come directly from policy experts at organizations and coalitions like The Urban League of Portland, Children’s Institute, Center for Intercultural Organizing, ReadyNation, Family Forward Oregon, and many more.

To make true progress we need to work together as advocates and Oregonians, hold lawmakers accountable, and build power for our kids. By highlighting the problem and uniting around these solutions with the urgency and determination shown by so many great pioneers before us, we can and we will make Oregon the best place to be a kid.

If you believe kids should a top public policy priority, join us today!