We can turn this house of cards into a real home

The following article appeared in the March 2nd edition of Street Roots newspaper.

We can turn this house of cards into a real home
By Alison McIntosh, Contributing Columnist

It’s the 28th of February, and the Legislature is still at work in Salem for this short February session. This month has been hard, with the Legislature dealing with both a difficult budget and complicated policy issues in an election year. The Legislature has acted in several significant ways to protect our communities and prioritize people’s needs, and the end result isn’t as bad as we feared it might be.

Many last minute items are still in process in Salem, and unfortunately some critically important work may be left undone. The budget however is widely considered as of today to be a done deal and while not as bad as we feared the news is still not good for those Oregonians most affected by the recession. Our safety net in Oregon feels much like a house of cards – it can provide some basic assistance to some people that need it, but it cannot adequately provide safety and meet basic needs for everyone. And for those with ongoing and significant needs, it may fail altogether.

Programs that provide emergency rent assistance and funding for shelters across the state (Emergency Housing Assistance and the State Homeless Assistance Program) experienced additional cuts of 3.5%. While this may seem like a small cut, these resources were already inadequate. Too many of our neighbors and families in need of rent assistance will be turned away from help. Programs to protect children and families continue to erode through additional cuts to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program. The impact of the cuts will be that those who have left TANF for work but need to return to the program may be asked to wait longer to return, and there were cuts to the portion of the program serving immigrants and refugees. People leaving TANF for work will also no longer receive a small subsidy designed to help them sustain their new employment. In slightly better news, many of the programs protecting seniors and people with disabilities were protected for now from further cuts.

While the state budget has huge impacts on our lives as Oregonians, we also are affected by federal budget and local budgets. These budgets all help to build, or erode the house that protects us in good times and bad. It seems like this news is getting worse as well – federal cuts proposed to housing assistance; local cuts proposed to transit services; and agencies and churches that seek to help are operating beyond capacity. How much longer can we hold together this house of cards?

While I know the cuts to local, state and federal budgets will continue to deeply and negatively affect Oregonians across the state, I believe it’s safe to hope the state budget will not get worse. It’s time to start thinking and working towards rebuilding a better future – one that isn’t a house of cards.

It’s time to see our state as a place of opportunity for everyone, one with strong communities where we pull together to overcome hardship and protect those most vulnerable among us. It’s time to commit to the idea that we live in a society where we are all in it together, where our fates are linked and we rise and fall as one.

If we believe these things, then we can begin to rebuild our house of cards into one with real walls, doors and a roof. One with strong supports for people who need it, one with a roof over everyone’s heads, and one with clear pathways to opportunity.

How do we get there from here? First, let’s remember that the Representatives and Senators who make these decisions in the State Legislature are our elected officials. We ask them to do the hard work of balancing the budget and making choices – so let’s get involved. Let’s thank them for their hard work and sit down to talk about what we would like our state to look like in the future. Let’s start a dialogue about how we transform the house of cards we have into the real house that we want.

The Housing Alliance brings together advocates, local governments, housing authorities, community development corporations, environmentalists, service providers, business interests, and all others dedicated to increasing the resources available to meet our housing needs to support a common statewide legislative and policy agenda. Alison McIntosh is a Policy Manager with Neighborhood Partnerships.

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