Oregon's Stimulus Program Overwhelmed Three Days After It Began

Oregon's one-time $35 million Emergency Relief Check Program has been depleted only three days after the state began distributing the stimulus checks to residents, state officials announced on Friday.

The offices of Oregon's House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney confirmed that all 70,000 available payments of $500 each had been distributed shortly after the program opened for applications on Wednesday.

"I want to thank the financial institutions that have stepped up in an emergency and are continuing to work so hard to get money into the hands of desperate Oregonians," Courtney said in a press release Friday. "We've said from the beginning that we know this is not enough money to help all of those in need. But we had to take action to get money directly to people as quickly as possible and this is a tremendous example of Oregonians pitching in to help our most vulnerable."

Officials reported that 62 percent of the payments were given to Oregonians living outside the Portland Metropolitan Area.

"It was hard to anticipate when funding would run out since this was a first-of-its-kind program, but we knew the demand would be very high," Danny Moran, a spokesperson for Kotek's office told Newsweek.

"This sends a clear signal that more must be done at the federal level to support Oregonians and Americans who have been devastated by the pandemic," he added.

The program was approved by state lawmakers back in July. The $35 million was allocated to the program from federal Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars to help Oregonians facing financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Residents over the age of 18 who have earned $4,000 a month or less before taxes were eligible for the one-time stimulus checks. Recipients also must attest they are experiencing severe financial hardship due to Governor Kate Brown's Stay Home, Save Lives executive orders.

Unemployment Line
Hundreds of unemployed Kentucky residents wait in long lines outside the Kentucky Career Center for help with their unemployment claims on June 19, in Frankfort, Kentucky. Oregon offered unemployed residents a on-time $500 payment for those struggling financially amid the coronavirus pandemic but all funds were distributed within three days. John Sommers II/Stringer

"While we know these limited funds aren't enough and won't allow us to help everyone, we felt it was important to try something," Tina Kotek said in a news release announcing the program's launch. "After months of hearing from increasingly desperate Oregonians who were doing everything right and still not getting the unemployment they were owed, we hope this effort offers a streamlined way for some financial relief. The state is stepping up, and I hope Congress will act soon to provide more support that is desperately needed."

Within the first hour that the program began, Kotek told KOIN that 100 people had already applied and by mid-afternoon, roughly 4,000 people had already been paid.

Residents waited in long lines at more than 150 locations where they were able to receive relief checks.

Jesse Coy told Fox-affiliate KPTV that he stood in line for two hours, but called the wait "worth it."

"I've got nothing else to do.… I'm out of work right now. I haven't had a job here in a couple months, and it's been tough," Coy said.

As a result of the ongoing global health crisis, millions of Americans have lost their jobs. Although Congress was quick to act on a coronavirus relief package in March, disagreements between House Democrats and Senate Republicans have stalled a second stimulus deal.

"These last couple days have put a spotlight on just how dire the need is all across the state," Kotek said in a statement. "We have to get more money to help people. The federal government has the ability to make direct stimulus payments to Americans whose lives are in jeopardy and are not doing so. I find this incredibly frustrating and disappointing."

Last week, Congress left for August recess without coming to an agreement, meaning many Americans, whose first round of federal funds have run out, will be left without any financial aid until September at the earliest.

Update 08/21/20 4:48 p.m. This story was updated with comments from Moran.