|While all our weeks at DHS are busy, the past week brought a series of significant and related events.
Let me start by thanking all of you who sent me personal notes this week and shared your experiences with me.
I have been receiving many e-mails - and I promise that I read every one - with questions about the furloughs and pay cuts that were announced by Governor Kulongoski for managers and executive service last Thursday and the subsequent news that as many as 26 furlough days were put on the table for the contract negotiations currently under way for represented workers.
Several people have asked me whether represented workers will be taking more furlough days than managers.
Let me be clear about this point: The Governor expects that the executive and management service staff will take the same number of days as represented workers and it is possible that managers will take even more, depending on the final outcome of the contract negotiations.
In other words, we are all in this together.
And let me be clear about another point: I will continue to advocate for our staff and spread the word about your great work through the halls of the Capitol and across the state.
I have also received questions about how the furloughs already in effect will work for executive service and managers. Earlier today the Office of Human Resources sent out an e-mail with some information and there will be more coming Monday. The Department of Administrative Services has been working with our Human Resources team to put together a comprehensive FAQ based on the questions you have sent.
The other sobering news this week is the huge increase in the number of Oregonians who are unemployed and needing economic supports to help them through these tough times. Our state unemployment rate is now 9.9 percent, which has nearly doubled since last year. And demand for food stamps has jumped 17 percent over January of 2008 while cash assistance need has increase 19 percent.
Niki Carpenter, left, helps an Oregonian receive economic assistance in the Bend DHS office.
Those are astonishing figures. There are now nearly as many people on food stamps in Oregon as there are residents in the city of Portland.
Last week also brought news about the Oregon state budget and the federal stimulus package. On Tuesday, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and on Friday the state economist announced that Oregon faces an $850 million shortfall for the 2007-2009 budget and there is currently a projected $3 billion shortfall in state revenues for the 2009-2011 biennium.
Even more worrisome, however, is that the federal stimulus will not fill the budget gap for the state. The Legislature is currently working on addressing the shortfall in the 2007-2009 budget and I will have more on that next week.
This message has included a lot of numbers, but as you know, what's happening in our state isn't about numbers, it's about people. It's about you.
To that end, I want to share a story from last week's Eugene Register-Guard about the newly poor who are turning to the state for help for the first time.
Here is what one former construction worker said about DHS workers: "The people down there were really very helpful and understanding. I was impressed that they were as helpful as they were." Here's what a former small business owner said: "[The] caseworkers were more willing to 'go the extra mile' to help him than what stereotypes of bureaucrats prepared him for."
I know that praise can feel empty or bittersweet when pay cuts have been implemented for some and more may be coming for all. But how could I not talk about how the same characteristics of caring and service on display at the 11th and Garfield branch in Eugene are repeated in every DHS office in the state?
So I want to thank you for all the good work you do to help Oregonians and I also want to encourage you during this very difficult time to be gentle with each other and yourselves. I have heard from people that these dark days are made easier when we are flexible, kind, and understand that we are all under a great deal of stress.
And I am not going to stop telling the stories of everything you do and I pledge to continue to do so as I advocate for our clients and staff.