Agriculture groups expect to play defense during the upcoming special legislative session on Oregon’s budget, when natural resources spending will likely go under the knife.

SALEM — Oregon lawmakers have cleared the way for some unemployed people to obtain one-time checks of $500 if they have been waiting for weeks to obtain unemployment benefits.

The Legislative Emergency Board voted Tuesday, July 14, to approve a maximum of $35 million for an estimated 70,000 claimants, most of whom are newly eligible for benefits as a result of congressional action in March. Self-employed people, independent contractors, gig and temporary workers were ineligible for benefits before the coronavirus relief bill became law.

The checks will not count against future unemployment benefits, and unless fraud is involved, recipients will not have to repay the emergency aid.

More than 500,000 claims have been filed for regular benefits since mid-March, and most of that backlog was eliminated by June 12. But federal law requires states to ensure that newly eligible workers for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance do not qualify for regular benefits.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, proposed the $35 million from the state’s $1.4 billion share of aid from the coronavirus relief bill to offer some relief for applicants who have been waiting for weeks.

“I don’t want to blame the Employment Department,” Courtney said. “I want to do something.”

Kotek said details are still being worked out. But she said banks and other financial institutions are willing to take part, knowing that whatever they pay out will be repaid by the state — and it’s not an issue of cash flow for them.

“If we set up an application process and eligibility criteria quickly, individuals could apply very soon … and they could get paid,” she said.

Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, said she knows of people who have resorted to selling their cars and other possessions to stay afloat financially. But she said she is concerned about the lack of a distribution process.

“These people have lost hope. They are absolutely frantic and desperate,” she said. “But if we say we have a finite amount of money and it’s first-come, first-served, I do not know what that is going to look like in the bank lobbies.”

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