|Over the past couple of weeks I have focused these messages on the economy because, like you, my thoughts are dominated by concerns about how the state and nation will deal with this crisis over the next year or longer. As Congress and President Obama finalize the details on a federal stimulus package, the ways DHS supports Oregon's economy have become increasingly clear and important.
Don't take my word for it -- ask Nobel-prize-winning economist Paul Krugman.
Mr. Krugman was in Oregon last week speaking to a sold-out crowd in Portland. While there he pointed out -- as he has several times -- that cutting human services makes a recession deeper and longer.
"Shredding the social safety net at a moment when many more Americans need help isn't just cruel," Krugman wrote in a December article. "It adds to the sense of insecurity that is one important factor driving the economy down."
DHS provides economic security in at least five ways.
First and maybe least known, is how our Public Health Division supports the economy by promoting health and preventing illness and contagious diseases, all of which help keep our economy strong and people at work. Think for a moment about the effect that a widespread influenza outbreak could have on our economy.
Second, of course, we provide direct economic assistance in the form of cash assistance and food stamps to people who have lost their jobs or are underemployed.
Third, those dollars move through communities and create economic activity to help local businesses large and small. Look at Jefferson County, for example. The unemployment rate jumped from 8.3 percent to 13.3 percent over the past year, and demand for our services increased 21 percent for food stamps and 26 percent for cash assistance since December 2007. Those assistance dollars are spent at local grocery stores, gas stations and retailers, and provide economic stability not only to Oregon families but whole communities.
Fourth, DHS injects millions of dollars -- $13 million to be exact -- into Oregon's economy every day through payments to doctors, service providers, counties and others. These dollars make up a full one-third of Oregon's health care and social assistance gross domestic product, making DHS one of the most important economic drivers in the state.
Thanks to day care supports, working parents can stay on the job.
Fifth, thanks to services provided or funded by DHS, people are able to get up every morning and go to their jobs. Just like the bridges of concrete and metal can improve traffic flow and help the economy, we provide safe passage to keep people working. For example, DHS helps 11,000 low-income families prepare for employment or remain employed by helping pay for child care for more than 20,000 children through the Employment Related Day Care program. Every working parent knows that, without safe and adequate child care, staying in the work force would be impossible.
To help the other side of the "sandwich generation," DHS funds long-term care assistance for 12,170 seniors so they can live independently in their homes. That means adult children can work full days without leaving to check in on a frail parent, which helps not only families but worker productivity overall.
And in what I would argue is the first step in the federal stimulus package, Wednesday President Obama signed a bill extending the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which will add 43,000 children in Oregon to the Oregon Health Plan over the next four years. Research shows that 88 percent of children currently without health insurance have at least one working parent, so this health care coverage will mean parents miss fewer days at work caring for children who are sick from preventable illnesses.
Every day the work we do helps stabilize families and the economy in these uncertain times.
I know it, renowned economists know it, and the people on the front lines know it, as evidenced by a recent comment in the news by Tammy Neal, a child care worker in Salem.
"I'm the bridge that helps low-income families stay on the job," she said. "If that isn't a smart investment into the economy, I don't what is."