SOUTH COAST — In a virtual town hall focused on individuals in Douglas, Coos and Curry counties, Sen. Ron Wyden spoke with Oregonians on pressing issues for about an hour on Friday. Looking to connect with counties across the state despite a global pandemic, Wyden looked to locals to guide the conversation.
One local voice came from Coos County Commissioner Melissa Cribbins who brought up the topic of Medicaid. Cribbins stated that before the COVID-19 pandemic 25% of Coos County residents were on Medicaid, a number that has only increased as unemployment has grown to 18.8%.
“Just know that we’re all in on the fight to get better medicaid reimbursements for rural Oregon. And the fact is, without rural healthcare, you can’t have rural life. This is a huge priority of mine and we’ve had battles along the way,” said Wyden.
“I have no higher priority than getting a fair shake for rural Oregon and healthcare. This isn’t Joe’s job or Sally’s job or Mary’s job — this is my job. I’m the ranking Democrat on the finance committee that has jurisdiction over Medicaid.”
In multiple questions, Wyden was asked about forestry and scenic lands across the area. Wyden praised the money brought in through outdoor recreation throughout the state and referred to the “21st Century Conservation Corps for our Health and our Jobs Act” which was brought forward in May.
The Act looks to add $10.6 billion in funding for the National Forest System in an attempt to get people back to work in the woods while increasing the health of forests and to help prepare for fire season. A fire season, that looks increasingly daunting.
“Democrats and Republicans, we’re all saying to the forest service personnel in Washington D.C., what are you all doing to get PPE to these courageous firefighters? And what’s going to be done in terms of testing and follow-up contact tracing?,” said Wyden.
He added, “Based on everything we’re hearing right now, this is going to be a fire season where you’re going to have pandemic hit a riskier than usual fire season. And so we’re going to have our hands full.”
Later in the conversation Betsy Cunningham of Roseburg brought up the conversation of the criminalization of people experiencing homelessness. Having worked with this issue for decades, Cunningham has seen continued issues with local efforts to stem this issue, especially in a time of COVID-19.
Wyden noted his support of the Public Health Emergency Shelter Act, an act that he stated doesn’t provide enough resources compared to money corporations recently received, in addition to the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.
“I want to make it clear, I am opposed to this proposition of criminalizing the homeless as a basic theory of respect and dignity in America. We have to ensure that so many who don’t have the opportunity for dignity which involves a shelter over their head, decent medical care that they get a fair shake in the end,” said Wyden.
After recent events across the country, Joe in Roseburg submitted a question broadly addressing reform to police departments.
“Police violence in brutality in effect undermine the rule of law. The rule of law is essentially a basic underpinning of a fair society. And that is why I’m a co-sponsor of the Justice in Policing Act,” said Wyden.
“It’s a comprehensive blueprint for reforming the country’s broken policing system. The essence of it is transparency and accountability.”
The complete town hall can be viewed on Wyden’s Facebook page.